Last week the House of Representatives approved House Bill 9147 banning the use of single-use plastics (SUP). The bill is well-intentioned and some parts of it are commendable, but the inclusion of sachets and multilayer packaging is too sweeping that it will shift the burden onto the poor and disadvantaged.
Before sachets became prevalent in the Philippines, this market was already transacting in single-serve retail quantities. The pocket dictates – you buy according to your means. A daily wage earner could not afford a full pack, so the sari-sari store owner would dispense small portions of products into plastic sachets. Until the brands took over. Sachets are right-sized products at affordable prices. Small portions of milk, coffee, and shampoo provide equitable access to nutrition and well-being.
The "sachet economy" generated massive quantities of plastic waste. Sachets are made of multilayer plastics which are efficient, inexpensive, and well-suited to our supply chain. But the thin layers cannot be separated into its base materials and they are difficult to retrieve. There are technologies that can convert them back to oil, but you need to collect billions of sachets to make it viable. This makes multilayer plastics practically unrecyclable.
What is the alternative to sachets and multilayer packaging? Glass jars and metal cans are expensive and over-engineered. Paper, monolayer plastics, and compostable packaging do not meet the required specifications. Using these materials will result in damage and spoilage of products. Solutions in developed countries will simply not work in developing countries because the base conditions are different.
If the bill is implemented as it is, food and basic items will be packed in bigger, recyclable, refillable containers. The rich will adjust and absorb some trade-offs. But the poor, made poorer by the pandemic, can only aspire to afford the products they once enjoyed.
Instead of banning SUPs and excluding them from the circular economy, government and civil society must work together to unlock the value of waste SUPs. Their non-degradability does not have to be their downfall. Channel this attribute to produce durable goods such as furniture, industrial goods, composite boards, pavers, blocks, and roads. Using waste plastic as a raw material prevents the extraction of fresh resources from the environment.
The "sachet economy" imposes a heavy toll on the environment. But banning sachets altogether obscures the reasons why they are successful in the first place. – Rappler.com
Judy Ascalon designed packaging solutions for food with 25+ years of experience in the food industry. She was a researcher for the recently-concluded World Bank project on plastics circularity in the Philippines.