In countries across the Asia-Pacific, including India, women waste pickers in the informal economy strive to recycle paper packaging, PET bottles, glass and plastic packaging, an important part of reducing waste and mitigating the environmental damage caused by pollution. At the same time, major corporations – including the world’s biggest food and personal care companies – claim to be recycling plastics, but fail to ensure the collection and recycling of their multilayered plastic packaging. This is a major source of plastics pollution in urban and rural areas and in coastal communities.

Nestlé Maggi noodles packaging at a dumpsite in Gujarat, India, is among the multilayered plastics that waste pickers do not collect because no one will buy it.

Multilayered plastic packaging is used in most of the products we consume from potato chips (crisps) and snack and biscuit packaging to the plastic sachets for detergents, liquid soaps and shampoo. However, the major companies producing these products are not taking action to ensure this kind of packaging is collected for recycling.

Since the companies are not paying to collect multilayered plastics for recycling, waste buyers have no one to sell it to. And as long as waste buyers are not buying it, there is no financial incentive for waste pickers to collect it. As a result it continues to add to massive landfills, while polluting agricultural lands, lakes and reservoirs, and coastal areas.

Without buyers, waste pickers ignore packaging like Mondelez’s Oreo wrappers.

If companies are serious about reducing multilayered plastics pollution, they must first commit to the most important part of the recycling chain: the waste pickers who collect plastics for recycling.¬† There must be a fair financial incentive for waste pickers in the informal economy who are on the front-line of waste recycling. This in effect would generate better paid “green jobs” in the informal economy and must be a part of companies’ commitments to environmental sustainability and just transitions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Unilever’s Surf Excel is among the many detergent sachets, along with shampoo and soap sachets, causing widespread plastics pollution that is outside the scope of recycling efforts