Four organisations share their thoughts on the state of sachets in Africa 

Sachets are low-value multi-layered single-use plastic; they are used to sell small and cheap quantities of products like shampoo, detergent, condiments and coffee. According to GAIA Asia Pacific’s Sachet Economy: “Sachets are widely perceived as affordable, convenient, and indispensable, but only because their true costs are externalised, unaccounted for by corporations that have profited handsomely from the sachet economy, and disproportionately paid for by society.” In Nigeria alone, the UN Environment Programme reports that 50-60 million used water sachets are discarded every day. Civil Society Organisations across the world are calling for the phasing out of sachets and the scaling up of reusable alternatives to plastic products.

End Plastic Pollution, Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development, Association de l’Education Environnementale pour les Futures Générations, groundWork, and Green Africa Youth Organisation share their thoughts on the state of sachets in Africa. 

End Plastic Pollution, Nirere Sadrach

Big brands are extending the huge cost of cleaning up and managing waste to communities that cannot afford it. Local communities do not have the infrastructure to collect this waste, and yet if you cannot collect enough of a waste product, it cannot be repurposed, reused or even recycled.

Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development,  Sarah Onuoha

Sachet plastic pollution, especially the pure water sachets, is a lake without an end in Nigeria.

Association de l’Education Environnementale pour les Futures Générations, Semia Gharbi

In Tunisia, 4.2 billion sachets are consumed annually, of which one billion are produced locally and then thrown away in the environment because they can’t be recycled. The Ministry of Environment decided to ban the use of sachets in bakeries, to decrease the use of sachets. It was a good step, but more is needed. Unfortunately, in Tunisia, we don’t see these big multinational brands acting in favour of protecting the environment by decreasing the use of plastic.

Furthermore, sachets impact waste pickers. Waste pickers must spend additional time and effort sorting out these non-recyclable items, which slows down their work and reduces their productivity. Unrecyclable plastics directly impact their income and financial stability as they offer waste pickers limited or no economic returns. Sachets, especially bulky or non-compact items, add weight to the waste collected by waste pickers. This increases waste pickers’ transportation and storage costs, as they need more time, effort, and resources to manage larger volumes of unrecyclable plastics. Moreover, these types of plastic, particularly those that are sharp, contaminated by toxic substances, or hazardous, can pose health and safety risks and exposure to waste pickers.

groundWork, Asiphile Khanyile

The plastic crisis’s lasting impacts have already been externalised onto the communities and natural environment (land and marine). It’s a game of profits versus the people. Sachets are hard to separate, sort and recycle due to their nature of multilayered materials. Not only that, sachets cause drain blockages (increasing the rate of flooding), litter, and harm animals. Since they are multilayered, they are hard to recycle and take more than 100 years to biodegrade. The waste belonging to multinational corporations ends up overburdening the waste management systems of countries, especially those in the developing world, because of their failure to provide adequate and effective services and systems in place to deal with this waste. The unrecyclable plastic makes waste pickers work for longer because they have to sort through unwanted waste. The argument is that we do not produce what we do not need. Waste pickers are also on the frontline of waste management; whether it is in (landfills, dumpsites, communities and on the streets) hence, they are exposed to other unsafe conditions.

Green Africa Youth Organisation

Richard Matey, The impact of the big brands failing to pay a levy to support the collection of their plastic products is the evidence of increased flooding of homes and communities as the drainages systems are chocked with plastics from these big brands. These plastic products have become a nuisance to sanitation leading to the spread of malaria and other diseases.

Efua Nyamekye Appiah, The double standards displayed by multinational corporations continuously exacerbated plastic pollution and its detrimental effects on the environment. These corporations actively produce and promote single-use plastics while simultaneously sponsoring global climate conferences like COP; for instance, at COP27, the was a lot of discussion on sponsorship by Coca-Cola, with an intent to create an illusion of environmental responsibility. This hypocritical approach prioritises short-term profits over long-term sustainability and hinders efforts to address the plastic pollution crisis. Additionally, the lack of corporate accountability, coupled with deceptive greenwashing practices, further contributes to the problem, increasing the monetary value of such organization and their scope but adversely affecting vulnerable communities facing huge plastic waste problems. Plastic pollution poses severe threats to wildlife, ecosystems, and human health, necessitating stricter regulations and greater corporate responsibility to curb plastic production, usage, and disposal. Addressing these challenges requires genuine commitment from governments, civil society, and consumers to hold.

Muzzafar-Din Essel, In Ghana, informal waste pickers face several difficulties in managing unrecyclable plastics. Among these, there is competition from the formal waste management sector where informal waste pickers independently collecting and selling recyclables are only able to make minimum value out of the waste collected because unrecyclable plastics are mixed with valuable recyclables while formal waste management companies that have advanced sorting technologies and infrastructure get all the value there is. Additionally, waste pickers are in direct line of health hazards. Unrecyclable plastics usually include items like single-use bags, styrofoam containers, or other types of packaging materials that are not only non-recyclable but can also pose health hazards to waste pickers. For example, burning unrecyclable plastics to reduce volume can release harmful toxins and pollutants into the air, leading to respiratory issues and other health problems for waste pickers.