Question: What is the sachet economy?
Answer: The sachet economy is a catch-all term for the trade in micro quantities for what economists call fast-moving consumer goods.
Sachets are little packages of shampoo, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, crackers, snacks, coffee, tea, seasoning, and pain reliever, among others. If you have ever seen someone selling loose cigarettes, you've encountered the sachet economy.
Trendwatcher summarizes marketers' sachet rationale: "…if roughly two-thirds of the world's population makes USD 1,500 or less per year, why try to sell them expensive, bulky goods and services originally designed for consumers who easily make twenty times as much…."
In the Philippines, the face of the sachet economy is the vast number of sari-sari stores covering the country. They family-run affairs are largely unregulated — home-grown versions of 7–Eleven branding, franchising, or refrigeration.
Sari-sari is Tagalog for "variety" or "everything." These diminutive cubby holes, chock full of single-use merchandise appear on the side of busy streets, along remote farm roads, nestled in middle-class suburbs. Where there are Filipinos, there are sari-sari stores.
Besides sachets, you can buy a can of corned beef, a beer or two, and a prepaid load for your phone. Sari-sari stores serve the community as everyone passes by the sari-sari store for something they need, even a bit of neighborhood gossip.
Sachets link people to the basic needs of the 21st century, but they pose a significant disposal problem. Consider an archipelagic nation of 110 million people, 7,100 islands, and a whole lot of little foil and plastic envelopes generated every day. The Philippines is the world's third-worst plastic polluter after China and Indonesia. According to Mongabay, the Philippines generates 43,684 tons of garbage each day.
The fundamental issue with sachets lies in their value to marketers and consumers. These inexpensive, small-quantity packages get one use. Then they move immediately to the garbage dump, ocean, or wherever they go to languish for however long it takes a plastic-lined foil pouch to dissolve. Except they don't dissolve, and they aren't recycled either.
Awareness is Slowly Developing
People are growing aware of the sachet waste problem. Next-generation environmentalists are educating sachet consumers about sustainable, plastic-free, or plastic-light lifestyles. Groups like Buhay Zero-Waste (Zero-Waste Living) are lighting the way. Organizations like Greenpeace are calling out manufacturers of sachet goods like Nestlé, Unilever, and P&G.
Ultimately these organizations are oriented in the right direction, but the sachet economy has a role in Filipino life because it ameliorates poverty and offers convenience. Small quantities packed by manufacturers or resellers give people access to goods they need at prices they can afford.