With a growing economy and a swelling middle class, people are consuming at a torrid pace — electronic devices, packaged foods, fancy toiletries — goods either made of plastic or wrapped in it.
… In many places, informal cadres of waste pickers collect what they can sell to recyclers. But much of the plastic cannot be recycled. So no one collects it, and it drifts. Everywhere.
…The same problem besets them all — it’s not just too much plastic but it’s the stuff that can’t be recycled. There’s nowhere to put it, except in landfills, which are few, and from which plastic eventually migrates, by wind or water.
…Crispian Lao, who used to be in the plastics industry and [now, in a somewhat Orwellian twist,] is now head of the Philippine Alliance for Recycling and Materials Sustainability. The group represents …companies like Unilever, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and others that make and package consumer goods.
Lao praises the sachets for [being easily identifiable] in a market where counterfeit goods are common. “There’s also the health issue,” he says: Sachets don’t pose health risks to the consumers in places where water to wash reusable containers might be contaminated. [The peanut gallery imagines this is the argument against a system where the consumer could bring their own packaging for the goods they are buying? Because corporate savior?]
…[Research] showed that the biggest sources of plastic waste washing into the oceans are in Southeast and South Asia.
Fingers were pointed.
…People in the Philippines were angry — among them, Grate. It was blaming the victim, not the manufacturers.
…Talk of future recycling still puts the burden of cleanup on the consumer. “The problem,” Grate says, “is that most companies … feel their responsibility ends the moment they sell it. That’s one of the biggest injustices here.”
…As for the pledge [to sell all products in recyclable packaging by] 2025, no one knows how companies will do it and how much it will cost to set up a huge recycling system across the islands of the Philippines.
…The plan was to challenge companies. Says Hernandez: “If we cannot recycle it or compost this material, then you should not be producing them in the first place.”
…Grate and other local activists in the Philippines proposed a novel action, something no one had done before: brand audits.
These environmental groups did regular beach cleanups, which helped bring attention to the problem even if the beaches were covered with trash again a few months later. But now they wanted to compile a list of the brand logos emblazoned on the plastic trash and publicize them for all to see.