Video and Article by Dave Albao, Goh Huibing, Waway Septiono, Manoly Sisavanh and Lai Yinyee
Colorful sachets hanging on shelves, piling in shopping carts, and passing at a quick pace through the cashier – a common sight in supermarkets and stores in the Philippines. These same sachets are also seen floating with dead fish in the Binakayan River, which flows out to Manila Bay. Sachets bring a dilemma when they remain popular among Filipino consumers despite increased awareness of their environmental impacts.
Sachets are disposable packets made from plastic and foil, and they have been used to contain a wide range of consumer products such as shampoo, soy sauce, shoe polish, and even corned beef. Almost 90 percent of Filipinos purchase these “mini-size” products, according to a 2005 study published in the Investigative Reporting Quarterly.
Multiple factors, such as daily wage, easy access to sari-sari stores, and strong marketing strategies, shape the Filipino preference for sachets. “Buying sachets are easier on the pocket,” says Mommy Tess, owner of a sari-sari or neighborhood corner store. “It is also easier to budget the amounts of products you use.” In a survey in 2006, 100 mL of shampoo from Procter and Gamble is cheaper by 2.35 Philippine pesos (USD 0.05) when it is bought in sachets.
Cost to the environment
However, environmentalists say that even if sachets are cheap and convenient, we have to pay the price for the ecological problems they cause. These little packets are usually made of non-biodegradable polythene, and are non-reusable, contributing to more plastic waste. Sachets and junk food wrappers constitute 19 percent of floating trash items in Manila Bay, while plastic bags comprise 51 percent, based on a survey done by EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace volunteers in 2006. These can clog drainage systems; as observed from the Ondoy flooding of Manila in 2009.
“Ending up in rivers, sachets can cause death of fish,” says Edrich Caparas, an aquaculturist from the Cavite provincial government. “Sachets carry bacteria which will result in oxygen depletion in the water. Fish also mistake them as food and choke upon eating them. The sachets also wrap around fish eggs,” continued Edrich.
What has been done
Environmental activists have started efforts to raise awareness about the problems caused by sachets. In 2010, local artist Nikki Valenzuela collected used sachets and made a 15-foot “tsunami” sculpture out of them. “It is a cautionary tale…. I wanted to shock the people with an art installation where trash suddenly becomes a monster,” says Nikki about her work. Family, friends, and connections made from social networking sites and blogs allowed her to gather the huge amount of sachets she needed to make the art installation project, which was displayed at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts.
Non-government organizations have also successfully implemented recycling sachets and doypacks by sewing or weaving them together to design handbags, baskets, wallets, and even sandals. A role model is the award-winning Kilus Cooperative, a foundation providing livelihood opportunities for women in Pasig City, where plastic bags are banned.
There are calls to reduce sachet packaging, directed to businesses and industries. One of the “Green Wishes for 2011” gathered from local environmentalists and reported by the EcoWaste Coalition is “that manufacturers using single plastic sachets and wrappers embark on pilot bulk… selling programs sans single-use packaging”. Lander Philippines is one company which does not make their personal care products available in sachets, and which encourages consumers to buy “family-sized” products through active marketing programs and contests.
Future of Sachets
Banning sachets may be the ultimate end to the environmental problems they cause. Yet the economics of sachets is complex and immediately eliminating them from the market will affect millions of Filipinos. On the brighter side, there are continuing initiatives from individuals and organizations to educate the public about sachet waste, and methods to deal with them such as recycling. What remains to be seen is whether the necessity for sachets will persist in the future.