When I was growing up in the seventies, my mother used to ask me to go to the corner store to buy 'tingi' or a portion of suka (vinegar), toyo (soy sauce), or paminta (pepper). These portions were usually sold by 'takal' -- which can be as large as one glass or as small as an espresso cup. In order to transport these portions from the store to the house, I usually had to bring a container -- which could be an empty bottle of whatever it was I was buying, like an empty vinegar bottle if I was buying vinegar.
These days, you no longer have to bring your own container to the corner store because you can now buy small portions of anything that you need in neat little plastic sachets.
Marketers in the Philippines touted this kind of packaging (tingi packaging) as a commercial success a couple years back. It earned billions and billions of pesos a year, earning producers of products in tingi packaging huge profits.
It seemed like a great deal.
Low income consumers could now buy high quality products, which they previously couldn't afford. Plus, big companies like Unilever, Nestle, Procter & Gamble, etcetera could now associate themselves with the 'masa' or masses -- which is a very lucrative market because of their sheer number.
Now, rather say that they are high quality brands, big multinational companies come up with advertising that present their products as a big help to housewives. They claim that their products are 'mas matipid' (costs less and is more effective), thereby helping housewives budget their money better.
But are sachets really more matipid?
Another blogger tried to figure it out:
And here’s a mystery for you: When you buy a sachet of this and that, and a sachet of everything else day after day, aren’t you paying more for packaging than the product it contains? Don’t products cost less per unit weight or volume when bought in larger quantities?
Wow. A poor sweatshop laborer, who could only afford small quantities of shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and whatever, might be spending more money on the same quantity of product that a middle class office worker buys, only because the former buys them in small quantities all the time.Now, because of the frequency and volume of sales, this type of marketing has inevitably produced tons of plastic waste.
This wouldn't be a problem if most Filipinos weren't the litter bugs that they are and if the government's garbage collection and recycling systems (if there is one) was a paragon of efficiency.
Sadly, most Filipinos are inveterate litterbugs and the garbage collection system (or what passes for it) isn't at all that effective.
In a previous post, we tried figuring just how much plastic waste "tingi" packaging generates:
Giant consumer goods manufacturer Unilever claims that every day, it sells 160 million products. Assuming that the sales volume of the other manufacturing giants, Procter & Gamble and Nestle is in the vicinity of Unilever’s, that would be some 500 million products sold daily.
Let’s peg a conservative estimate that 10 percent of all products sold are in plastic sachets, then that’s 50 million. That’s 50 million plastic sachets and pouches that will eventually find its way to our oceans, waterways, landfills and drainage systems ready to clog the free flow of water and trigger floods or kill marine wildlife.
But it is really reasonable to think that of the 500 million products sold daily by the three giants, only 10 percent of are in tiny plastic sachets?
Another blogger makes a different estimate:
According to Unilever’s vice president for corporate planning Chito Macapagal, 70% of Unilever Philippines 2007 sales is from the sachet market. That’s 70% of 30 billion pesos, or 21 billion pesos three years ago. That’s nine zeroes following 21. The company was enjoying double digit growth rate from the previous year, so expect that by now those numbers are now not just big, but big big.
Can you picture how many sachets 21 billion pesos’ worth of Unilever products are? Well, let’s see. Which brands of theirs have sachet variants? Sunsilk, Creamsilk, Rexona, Clear, Knorr, Lady’s Choice, Close-Up, Best Foods, and Vaseline come to mind.
Moving on, 21 billion pesos in sachets, if say, the average price for any given sachet were 20 pesos conservatively (I say conservatively because first, most of those mentioned cost less than 20 pesos, and second, 21 billion pesos in Unilever’s sales is at supplier-to-distributor prices, which are lower than retail), would be equivalent to 1,050 million sachets. If a given sachet has 10mL of product inside, it’s like they’re producing- no, selling at least one Olympic size swimming pool’s worth of product every 3 months. That doesn’t sound like much, but you could shampoo all 90 million Filipinos 20 times over with that much shampoo, if it were all shampoo.
What’s difficult to imagine is the sheer quantity of packaging material that went into the making of all those sachets. If 1,050 million sachets were sold, then the waste would be 1,050 million multiplied twice to include front and back of the sachet, times 3 inches by 4 inches (I took an estimate of a Clear shampoo sachet), which equals 25,200 million square inches. This is the equivalent of about 16.26 square kilometers worth of sachet or wrapper material. Now, before you do take the initiative to shoot me for driving you nuts with numbers, picture this: 16.26 square kilometers of sachet is enough to cover all of Ilog Pasig.Now, with this in mind, can you imagine just how much of this plastic packaging garbage ends up BLOCKING storm drains and flood ways?
Take a look at this picture:
Actually, you don't have to look at an estero like this to figure out just how much plastic garbage we generate. If you pass by a flooded street, chances are, there's plastic garbage blocking the street's storm drains.
If you remember the Ondoy floods, here's a picture that shows proof of what partly caused it.
|Plastic packaging partly to blame for Ondoy floods.|
What you see in this picture is a chicken wire fence in Provident Village Marikina that acted like a net.
I had a chance to personally sift through this wall of plastic garbage, and I spotted plastic grocery bags from SM (from SM Marikina and SM Riverbanks), Downy wrappers, Surf wrappers, assorted shampoo sachets, etcetera.
With that said, one way of figuring what sachets really cost the average, masa consumer is to factor in the following:
- lost man hours and income because one cannot get to work because of floods caused by plastic sachets
- lost man hours and income because one got sick of dengue and other diseases caused by floods and stagnant water
- the cost of medicine and hospital treatment
- the cost of damaged property due to floods
- the cost of replacing or repairing damaged property due to floods
- the cost of fuel wasted due to traffic caused by floods
If you add all that up and add it to the cost of products in plastic packaging, you'd probably rack up a figure in the billions of pesos.