What is a Sachet Economy?

April 8, 2024

The Philippines faces a unique challenge – the "sachet economy." These single-use plastic packets containing everyday items are deeply ingrained in the country's culture and commerce. While affordable for low-income residents, they contribute significantly to plastic pollution. Key Points: -Massive Scale: Around 164 million sachets are used daily, constituting 52% of the Philippines' plastic waste. -Poverty Trap: Sachets are often the only affordable option for many Filipinos living below the poverty line. -Double Threat: Plastic waste clogs drainage systems, exacerbating the devastating effects of typhoons, which are a frequent occurrence in the Philippines. -Leading the Charge: The Philippines has implemented the world's most aggressive Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) law, including flexible plastics like sachets in waste recovery programs. The sachet economy highlights the complex relationship between poverty and environmental sustainability. Finding solutions requires innovative approaches that address affordability concerns while promoting responsible waste management practices.

Sachets, single-serve sealed plastic packets holding common household items like shampoo and seasonings, have become a defining feature of the Philippine economy. The single-use plastic products have become so ingrained in the country’s culture and trade that a name has been given to the phenomenon: “Sachet economy.” Around 164 million sachets are used and thrown out every day in the Philippines, and they comprise 52% of the entire country’s plastic footprint.

Sachets are a common sight in most small-scale Filipino stores. Photo credit: Philstar

The sachet economy persists, first and foremost, because of the alarming amount of Filipinos living below the poverty line. Many impoverished people rely on sachets because it’s all they can afford. They do not have the luxury of buying products in bulk to lower their environmental impact. While sachets themselves are cheap (some go for as low as ₱5), the impoverished pay for the true cost when plastic waste overwhelms their communities. This leads to the outbreak of otherwise preventable diseases.

Plastic sachets washed up on the shoreline in the Philippines. Photo credit: SCMP

Additionally, the Philippines faces a double threat: plastic waste and typhoons. An average of 20 typhoons hit the country every year, and it's not uncommon that they cause devastation. In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan affected more than 14 million people. Overwhelmed sewage systems, often choked by plastic waste, back up, contaminating floodwaters and posing serious health risks. These plastic-induced floods lead to tragic loss of life, destroyed homes, and shattered communities.

A Filipino rummaging through the plastic-filled aftermath of a super typhoon. Photo credit: BBC News

With a plastic pollution crisis plaguing the Philippines, it’s no wonder that the country has the most progressive EPR law in the world. One important part of the regulation is the inclusion of flexible plastics (such as sachets) in its waste recovery program, setting it apart from other countries. Though most countries did not include flexible plastic in the EPR schemes, the case of the sachet economy in the Philippines necessitates this provision.