The curse of Asian sachets: why Western companies should be held accountable
Written by Delphine Lévi Alvarès, European Zero Waste Policy Officer, after experiencing an astonishing amount of plastic waste on Philippine beaches.
On the morning of Saturday, July 16, some staff from Zero Waste Europe participated in their first beach cleanup in the Philippines. It is only 8 o’clock in the morning, and a group of volunteers are already on the beach of Liberty Island. They take bags and gloves to remove the sand from the sand. The rubbish flows down into Manila Bay from all the small canals and rivers that pass through the metropolis. . .
When we arrived at the beach, our first impression was shocking. It is almost evenly covered with sachets of almost unused shampoo, detergent and instant coffee...a sea of colors and brands, many of which are recognized by the keen eyes of Western consumers. Nestlé, Maggi, Ariel, Palmolive, Colgate, Head & Shoulders, Mentos, etc., come directly from the marketing brains of American and European multinational companies such as Nestlé, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.
Why are there so many disposable pouches in this part of the world to pack the same products that we use in larger containers in Europe and the United States, and how do they end up flowing into rivers and oceans? When talking with colleagues from Southeast Asia, we learned that behind the false affordability (so-called "poverty alleviation") argument made by the companies that make these products (that is, it is cheaper for low-income people to buy these products) even though they ultimately want The total cost of payment is higher, but this is a more important marketing argument than buying more quantities per day. Therefore, attractive colors and shiny packaging. Even if this is not part of their strategy, there is a lack of sound waste collection and management systems in most places where people use these sachets, resulting in large amounts of garbage on land and waterways, increasing their brand's popularity, and even surpassing market stalls.
However, solutions to replace these pouches exist, and many zero-waste organizations have been promoting them in front of the corporate leaders of these brands. In low-income areas, they should be replaced by dispensers, from which people can take out a pump of required products (oil, shampoo, detergent, etc.) in small recyclable and reusable containers. It is cheaper to buy every day, because a large part of the product price is the cost of the packaging itself. Improving the waste management system in these areas is of course a top priority, but prevention is better than managing waste anyway, and more importantly, because these small bags made of multilayer materials are not recyclable.
The brand's response to this proposal was a resounding "no".
Producers need to be responsible for the products they put on the market, and if they are sold in places where there is no way to manage these wastes, they should-at least-bear the cost and waste of collecting and disposing of these wastes. If they did it in Europe, why couldn't they do it in Asia?