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Nestlé, Unilever vow to explore alternatives to plastic packaging

Consumer companies Nestlé Philippines and Unilever Philippines vowed on Tuesday to heed the criticisms of environmentalists and find greener alternatives to plastic packaging.

Nestlé Philippines, the largest contributor of branded plastic pollution in Manila Bay according to data by Greenpeace and other groups, said in a statement sent to GMA News Online that they “share the Greenpeace ambition that no plastic waste should end up in our environment, particularly in our rivers and oceans.”

While Nestlé recognized the role of plastic packaging in product safety, the “right approach” would allow them to maintain such safety without endangering the environment.

“This is why we are continually exploring ways to find packaging alternatives, which ensure food safety without compromising our environmental ambitions to reduce, reuse and recycle,” the statement said.

Unilever Philippines, which follows Nestlé in the plastics list, said they welcomed "the Greenpeace audit.”

“While single-use sachets have benefited millions of Filipinos in terms of affordability and accessibility to high-quality products, we also recognize their environmental impact,” Ed Sunico, Unilever’s Vice President for Sustainable Business and Communications, told GMA News Online in an email.

Both companies said they were planning for more environment-friendly approaches to plastic packaging and waste disposal.

Clean-up, audit

According to Greenpeace, volunteers and waste pickers had gathered 50,000 individual pieces of waste during an eight-day clean-up drive on Freedom Island- an ecotourism area that was a critical habitat for migratory birds.

The clean-up drive was followed by an audit of the types of waste and of the companies that produced them.

Of the more than two tons (2,106.8 kilos), or 54,260 pieces, of waste collected during the clean-up drive, almost half, or 49.33 percent, were plastic materials. Another 26 percent were generally classified as “other” wastes, while the rest consisted of items including diapers, sanitary napkins, footwear, and styrofoam.

Among the plastic materials, the audit found that sachet goods widely patronized by Filipinos were the most numerous plastic trash found in Manila Bay.

Plastics from food and drink company Nestlé were the most numerous, representing 16.74 percent of all the branded plastic waste gathered during the clean-up drive.

Household and personal care brands firm Unilever came in second, representing 10.62 percent of plastic waste gathered; with Indonesian company PT Torabiko, which manufactures drinks Kopiko and Energen, following close behind at 10.17 percent.

The clean-up drive and waste and brand audit, the “first of its kind” in the country, was organized by Greenpeace Philippines and anti-plastic pollution movement Break Free From Plastic (#breakfreefromplastic).

According to Break Free From Plastic, the following companies were responsible for branded plastic pollution in Manila Bay, along with their respective percentages in the bulk of waste gathered in the eight-day cleanup drive:

  • Nestle - 16.74%
  • Unilever - 10.82%
  • PT Torabika 10.17%
  • Universal Robina Corporation - 9.75%
  • Procter & Gamble - 7.19%
  • Nutri Asia 4.74%
  • Monde Nissin - 4.87%
  • Zesto - 4.44%
  • Colgate Palmolive - 4.25%
  • Liwayway - 2.87%
  • Peerless - 1.94%
  • Mondelez - 1.65%

More than half of these companies are international brands, while 18.93 percent are local ones, representatives from Break Free From Plastic said.

These companies manufacture basic consumer goods like coffee, milk, shampoo, instant noodles, and junk food.

Single-use plastic

Environmental advocates, including members of Greenpeace Philippines and the Eco-Waste Coalition, are calling on corporations to phase out single-use, or disposable, plastic products and packaging, most commonly in sachet form.

“Corporates have to take responsibility for what they are doing,” Michael Meyer-Krotz of Greenpeace Germany said.

“They need to phase out single-use plastic, they need to publicly commit for a clear plan how to phase out and they need to take leadership for innovation,” Meyer-Krotz added.

Environmental advocates said that they were shifting their attention from government incapability and irresponsible consumer behavior and have started putting pressure on corporations.

“We want to put a spotlight on the companies that are perpetuating the use of single-use plastics as well as what we call zero or low-level packaging,” said Von Hernandez, the global coordinator of Break Free From Plastic.

Nevertheless, Sonia Mendoza of the Mother Earth Foundation said Break Free From Plastic members called on government to “enact a national policy to reduce and eliminate single-use plastics” and to “mainstream zero-waste programs in all our barangays.”

Mendoza also called for the “strict implementation” of Republic Act 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.


Greenpeace Philippines Campaigner Abigail Aguilar, meanwhile, said only Nestlé responded when they tried to get in touch with the companies involved in plastic waste.

“They requested for a meeting and we met with them,” Aguilar said. “And they presented to us their environmental sustainability program, but we feel those are inadequate and we don’t really agree with the approach that they are taking.”

Nestlé in their statement thanked Greenpeace for meeting with them.

“We welcome continued discussions with Greenpeace, including the sharing of any resource or existing research that may provide information on more efficient packaging solutions so we may together find alternative innovative packaging that is safe, affordable and accessible to Filipino consumers,” the statement read.

Aguilar said Nestlé opted for burning waste in incinerators, which Greenpeace opposes on account of it being a “waste-to-energy” approach that would save the oceans, but pollute the air.

Howeve, Nestlé explained that while they did not believe incineration was an acceptable long-term end-of-life solution for plastic packaging,  the absence of “available and scalable technologies” left only energy recovery in the form of plastic incineration as the only viable short-term option for any recovery.

For their part, Unilever Philippines said they did not receive any official communication from Greenpeace prior the release of the brand audit’s results. They were nevertheless open to dialogue with the environmental group. — DVM, GMA News