Elle Guison

Published: April 22, 2024

This article marks Earth Day 2024, observed on April 22. This year's theme is ‘Planet vs. Plastics’ emphasizing the urgent battle against plastic pollution.

MANILA, Philippines — A new brand audit report from Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) identified 10 companies from Europe, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, the United States, and Singapore as top plastic sachet polluters in Asia.

The list revealed British multinational company Unilever as the top sachet polluter in 2023, which has also been consistently part of BFFP’s list since 2018. 

Other top polluters listed were Indonesia’s Mayora Indah, Wings, and Salim Group, India’s Wadia Group and Balaji Wafers Private Limited, Swiss multinational conglomerate Nestlé, American multinational firm Procter & Gamble, Singapore’s Yes 2 Healthy Life, and Philippines’ JG Summit Holdings.  

They were all identified as companies that sell fast-moving consumer goods such as processed food and beverage and personal care products—most of which manufacture single-use plastics as packaging.

The audit collected a total of 33,467 sachets traced to 2,678 different brands between October 2023 and February 2024. The plastic waste was gathered across 50 locations in the Philippines, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Of the four Asian countries, the Philippines had the most number of sachets, accounting for 32% of the regional total, or 10,801 pieces.

“The sachet culture has taken over the originally sustainable Filipino tingi (small quantities) culture. A staggering estimate of 164 million pieces of sachets are used and discarded in the Philippines daily,” said Regine Joy Nayve, program officer of Mother Earth Foundation.

This is only a fraction of the estimated 855 billion sachets sold globally each year, which contribute significantly to plastic pollution.

Plastics are inherently tied to the worsening climate crisis. Producing plastic is a carbon-intensive process—from extracting and refining raw materials to manufacturing the product, these activities require fossil fuels and emit planet-heating greenhouse gases (GHG).

BFFP Sachets Project Coordinator Miko Alino explained that plastics also emit GHGs even after usage and disposal.

“Municipalities are forced to burn them which releases toxins into the air, or send them to already congested landfills. Sachets disfigure our beautiful landscapes and also harm vital economic cogs in the region, like the tourism industry,” he said.

Meanwhile, plastics that end up in oceans also release GHGs, such as methane and ethylene, as they break down from heat and sunlight exposure. They also hamper the ability of oceanic plankton to absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. This is especially alarming since around 50% of Earth’s oxygen production comes from the ocean.

If corporations continue to use single-use plastics and refuse to change their practices, humanity may see a warmer future as the world fails to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, groups warned. 

“By 2050, plastic production and disposal could generate greenhouse emissions equivalent to 615 coal plants every year and consume up to 13% of Earth’s remaining carbon budget,” said Carroll Muffett, president and CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, in a Plastic Pollution Coalition report.

Volunteers with the Greenpeace-Philippines sorting the sachets by size to analyze them for the brand audit. (Greenpeace Philippines)

 

Plastic-free future

The first plastic ban was implemented in Bangladesh in 2002, about seven decades after the discovery of the most abundant plastic, polyethylene, in 1933. Yet, the world’s plastic problem has only worsened. In 2023, the United Nations reported that global plastic production reached about 430 million metric tons annually.

“Corporations are driving the plastic crisis in the Philippines, but they can help solve the problem their products create. With sachets comprising 52% of the country’s residual plastic waste and plastic production only getting bigger, there is no doubt that corporations must act now,” Marian Ledesma, Zero Waste Campaigner from Greenpeace Philippines, explained.

BFFP called on corporations to phase out sachets, share plastic use data publicly, end support for false solutions, redesign business models, and invest in better product delivery systems.

Mother Earth Foundation, for its part, sought for a redesign of current systems, supporting refill and reuse systems and suggesting the restoration of the sustainable Filipino “tingi” culture. 

Aloja Santos, founding president of the Philippine National Waste Workers’ Alliance, said waste workers “strongly support initiatives aimed at reducing plastic pollution and promoting reuse options.”

Volunteers from the other Asian countries involved in the project also shared their concerns regarding plastics.

One of them is Vidya Naiknaware, a waste picker from the India Project Team. She said that tiny wrappers and sachets are “practically impossible to collect” and urged companies to produce packaging that can be picked up and sent for recycling, or be composted.

“Furthermore, we appeal to the government to involve us in drafting plastic regulations, as these policies directly impact our livelihoods and environment,” she said. 

Apart from these calls, Greenpeace, BFFP, and other environmental groups are pushing for a Global Plastics Treaty that aims to phase down the production of single-use plastics across the world. 

They also call on the Philippine government to side with the communities affected by plastic pollution and support the global treaty.

The treaty is expected to be finalized by November 2024.