EARLY last month, an environmental group released the results of a five-year audit of Metro Manila’s plastic trash. The results were staggering: Every day, people tossed out 163 million plastic sachets, 48 million plastic shopping bags, 45 million thin-film bags, and more than three million diapers. All that trash could submerge the country’s capital in knee-high plastic garbage in a year, according to the report.
What comes to mind immediately is what a former colleague in the academe said that the poor are the reason there is so much plastic trash because they buy products in sachets instead of in bulk. This twisted logic is shared among the middle and upper classes, who tend to be disconnected from realities other than their own.
Many people, not only the poor, buy products in sachets because of convenience. Sachets are easier to carry around and store. Imagine having to haul one-liter bottles of shampoo, conditioner, dishwashing liquid, fabric conditioner, ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, and cooking oil, and one kilogram each of coffee, creamer, sugar, salt, and pepper, all by yourself, and having to use public transportation to take all of these home. Imagine cramming all these groceries in a small kitchen cupboard of a one-bedroom apartment no larger than 30 square meters.
Also, buying products in sachets is actually practical in a country where food spoils easily because of heat and humidity and in households without a refrigerator. If you buy three pounds of ground coffee in a can and you’re the only one who drinks coffee, the coffee would have expired before you even got to the bottom of the can. Buying in bulk, in this context, actually leads to more food wastage.
But more than convenience, people buy products in sachets because of affordability. As of February 2019, the daily minimum wage for non-agricultural workers in Region IV-A is 400 pesos or roughly 8,800 per month. A person earning only this much with four other mouths to feed and with bills to pay would not buy shampoo in a 900ml bottle that costs around 330 pesos. He would rather spend a large chunk of his 400-peso-per-day salary on food for the family.
Banning the use of sachets is just a knee-jerk reaction and a shortsighted solution to our growing trash problem. Forcing people to buy products in bulk is more financially wasteful and more impractical in terms of storage space. Unfortunately, local government units (LGUs) are quick to resort to policing and regulation when it comes to garbage — passing the problem down to their constituents instead of providing solutions themselves. While municipal ordinances are also needed to minimize littering, they don’t entirely solve the problem, especially when government prohibits littering but provides no trash bins.
Opportunities can arise out of this seemingly unsolvable problem. Because there is now a clamor for manufacturing companies and businesses to shift toward more sustainable, eco-friendly, or biodegradable packaging, some businesses are already adapting, like a zero-waste store in Los Baños that sells vinegar, soy sauce, cooking oil, starch, sugar, coffee, chocolate drink, and shampoo in bottles or dispensers. LGUs can also initiate the revival of local industries like bayong or basket-making.
The plastic trash problem is not the fault of consumers entirely, and just a few individuals cannot solve it. If the LGUs can engage local businesses and their constituents, then maybe the nightmare of being buried in plastic trash won’t turn into reality. (Laguna Now)