Single-use sachets are poisoning Indonesia’s rivers, oceans, land and air. Industry giant Unilever can help stop it. That’s because Unilever has a hand in each stage of the sachet life cycle, from production to waste management.
But does Unilever want to quit sachets? Will one of the world’s largest producers of sachets transform its “business-as-usual” practices, and reverse the plastic pollution trend?
Will it stop plastic pollution by changing course, by producing fewer sachets and promoting better alternatives? Or will it keep delaying change with its commitment to an ineffective status quo?
The Sachet Explosion
Take the Lead.
Walk the Talk.
Stop Sachet Pollution.
As a global fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) giant, Unilever is uniquely positioned to halt polluting practices and scale up socially just solutions. It has the power and responsibility to push for a more socially inclusive and environmentally friendly world. Which is what it currently claims it is doing.
In reality, Unilever is continuing to expand production of one of the most polluting products in Asia: sachets. It sells millions of sachets to Asian communities with no proper waste management infrastructure. Those sachets end up as plastic waste, polluting the same communities that Unilever claims to serve.
Worse, Unilever compounds the issue by not only producing sachets but also supporting socially unjust false solutions that pollute communities and the climate.
Unilever's presence worldwide should translate to global accountability and leadership.
Unilever, it’s time to take the lead, walk the talk, and leverage your brand for good.
It’s time to quit sachets.
We urgently need to bridge the divide to a fairer, more socially inclusive world. A world where we all live with, rather than at the expense of, nature and the environment. We still have time to act. But we don’t have time to waste.
Unilever Website, accessed 15 March 2022
Unilever, Take the Lead!
Unilever has submitted a roadmap to reduce waste by 30% to the Indonesian government. But civic society and people affected by the roadmap are left out of the loop, with no access to provide critical input on how to transition away from sachets and how to keep Unilever accountable.
Unilever should take the lead and release its waste reduction roadmap today.
Single-use sachet waste is a burden borne disproportionately by society, instead of by the companies that create it.
Sachets are widely perceived as affordable, convenient, and indispensable, but only because their true costs are externalized, unaccounted for by corporations that have profited handsomely from the sachet economy, and disproportionately paid for by society.
GAIA, “Sachet Economy”
Unilever’s False Solutions
In the past, efforts to reduce sachet waste were delayed, ineffective, or even damaging to the environment.
Burning Plastic Versus Coal
In Indonesia, Unilever intends to burn 30,000 tons of plastic waste in cement kilns annually. Instead of addressing the problem at source, this creates more waste because the process requires digging up old trash and burning it.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, substituting plastic for coal as alternative fuel in cement plants has no significant climate benefit.
Far from Zero Emissions
Unilever’s goal of co-incinerating 30,000 tons of plastic waste in Indonesia will cause 90,000 tons of CO2-equivalent emissions. That’s contrary to Unilever's own zero-emissions commitment.
Unilever has declined to comment on air pollution from its RDF projects, according to Reuters.
There is no significant climate benefit to be gained from substituting plastic for coal, and that burning this waste in cement kilns can create harmful air pollution that must be monitored.
Real Talk: What Unilever says
In its news blog, Unilever has been tackling some of the key questions about their use of sachets. They acknowledge the problem but have a typical corporate mindset on what sustainable is—business as usual with green sprinkles on top. Here are a few excerpts from their blogs to show what they are saying versus what they mean in context.
Excerpts taken from:
[Plastic] also often has the lowest carbon footprint compared to other materials…
Let’s not mention the enormous external costs of plastic production and disposal, plus its impact on air, water and soil quality.
What They Mean
Falling Short of the Mark
Unilever’s attempts to address plastic pollution include patchwork solutions at best and inaction at worst.
Of the 31 projects Unilever launched between 2018 and 2021:
required a third-party to collect and dispose of the plastic
were announced and never launched
How Unilever can make a difference
Solutions to sachets are already in operation in Indonesia.
These strategies reduce waste before it ends up in landfills, amplifying their effectiveness. Unilever could make a real difference in reducing sachet waste if it scaled up these solutions.
that don’t use plastic packaging
and don’t burn plastic
mobile refill stations
that make refilling easy, accessible and quick
small format PET containers
that are reusable and refillable
that dispense package-free products
Plastic pollution is fixable,
but the world needs a plan.
accessed 17 January 2022
So what's your plan, Unilever?
Sachets are such a big, global problem that the only way to eradicate it is for all sectors - governments, companies and communities - to collaborate.
All need to know Unilever’s waste reduction roadmap, one that covers the entire plastic lifecycle.
But Unilever Indonesia still has not released its roadmap to the public.
Indonesian consumers deserve to know the FMCG giant’s plans to eradicate sachet waste poisoning their communities.
Unilever Indonesia should release its waste reduction roadmap today.