Pure Water Sachets

“Pure water! Pure water!”  A seven-year-old girl carries a rectangular insulated thermos on her head as she walks towards the tro. Individuals sitting in an almost full tro buy a small plastic sachet of water.  For each sale, the young vendor braces the thermos with her left hand as she reaches up with her right hand to open the thermos, pull out a sachet of water and hand the small bag to the thirsty traveler. The traveler exchanges a 10 pesewa coin (about five cents) for the clear plastic sachet of clean water.  

“Ice pure water! Ice pure water!”  A twelve year old girl carries a large plastic tub with a lid on her head. She walks toward people waiting on a bench at the tro station. Who will buy a 500 milliliter sachet of cool water to wash down the hard-boiled egg or fried yam slice they just ate?

“Pure water! Pure water!” A woman in her mid-twenties walks by with a tub of pure water sachets on her head and a baby strapped to her back. She asks a man standing nearby to help her move the tub to a small stool so she can sell water sachets to passengers on the bus. 

Like bottled water around the world, the “pure” water in sachets may not be much different from the piped water available. But the labels declare “pure water” and that’s what it’s called.  Cocktail-napkin sized pure water sachets are part of the Ghanaian culture. 

Companies sell pure water (packaged in plastic sleeves with 30 sachets each) to small re-sellers. 

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Sleeve of 30 pure water sachets

Re-sellers sell 30-sachet bags for 1.50-2.00 GHC (75 cents to a dollar) to small entrepreneurs.
Caterers or street vendors refrigerate the sachets and sell cool water to individual customers.

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Single sachet

The price for each sachet is always 10 pesewa.

After buying a sealed plastic bag of cool water, the purchaser rips a small hole in one corner with his teeth.  When we arrived in Ghana as Peace Corps Trainees, one of our first lessons was how to rip the water sachet open with our teeth without biting off a bit of plastic or spilling water on ourselves.  The sachet plastic holds as much as a small water bottle and is flexible enough so it can be placed on the floor or a table without spilling.

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Open sachet on left - compared to bottle and new sachet

After drinking the water, individuals almost always drop the empty pure water sachet to the ground. Few water sachets are recycled. Few sachets are reused. Most pure water sachets end up in landfills.

It’s easy and fun to reuse the sachets.

The easiest reuse is cutting the top edge to make a mini-pouch. The one-sachet pouch can be used as a simple soap holder. Cut a few slits in the bottom for drainage and the pouch becomes a planter for new seeds.

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Simple soap holder

Kids as young as five or six can make jumping ropes from the pure water sachets by cutting the sachet into rings, connecting the rings into a rope and braiding the rope together.

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Making braided jump ropes

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Playing with the new jump rope

Children cut the sachets into rings to make “nets” for volleyball or football (soccer) or fences.

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Volleyball net

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Children on their way to school behind my fence

Teens cut one seam off the sachets to allow them to dry before making bags or coin purses – either sewing by hand or by machine.

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Coin purse with zipper

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Book bag (fabric inside each pouch)

I combined the “net” technique with a “bag” design to make a market pouch.

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Fancy market bag

My pure water sachet woven basket is still in the prototype stage…

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A work in progress...

I may become the “Pure Water Sachet Queen” (or perhaps the “crazy Obruni who makes everything from pure water sachets”) before I leave Ghana.

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18 Responses to Pure Water Sachets

  1. Suan Hughes says:

    Fascinating. You’ve mentioned the sachets before and I always wondered what exactly they were.

  2. Austin Ray says:

    Thanks for the pictures. I had wondered what they looked like. They look pretty short to tie into a rope, but I guess it works…

  3. bill carter says:

    I must admit. I’ve never seen anything like this sober. Amazinging clever!

  4. Dolores Runyon says:

    How clever and inventive! Loved the pictures.

  5. sharon says:

    Love the pictures, I’m not.very good at picturing things in my head so love seeing your dense and market bag, can’t wait to see your basket creation. Have they finished the bathrooms they were building? Look forward to your next post

  6. Denise Boydston says:

    Linda, Boy do we take water for granted!  Just turn the faucet and voila…instant water!   I think the uses of the sachet bags is so creative! Did they already know what all they could use the empty bags for?   Any chance that you would take orders from us and then we can purchase them and you could pass of the monies to the peoples?   Just wondering.   Remember how they used to use chewing gum wrappers to make purses?   Now, I think they use the Capri Sun, etc. empty bags to make bags and purses.   I like all of the ideas how the bags are being used of the water sachet!   denise

    • lsmittle says:

      Denise, there are some “Obruni” stores in Accra and other large cities that sell fun items made from pure water sachets (and Capri-Sun like pouches or other recycled materials). Tourists buy the creative accessories like large market bags and cosmetic-travel cases. People in the rural community usually view the sachets as trash – something to dispose of immediately. I’d love to start a small cooperative where the women make items and sell them to earn a bit of extra money. I’ll keep you in the loop. I remember making purses and chains from chewing gum wrappers. We’ve made chains from old magazines cut into chewing-gum-wrapper size rectangles. Do you remember how to connect them to make a purse?

  7. Gabriele says:

    long hair…hmmm….are you wearing a pony tail these days? Love it.

    water….I have actually been more careful since you moved to Africa. See…you even have a good affect on us in the States.

    Its been a mild summer here in Dallas…but I am still hot hot hot. Maybe its just my age, but I am grouchy about temps over 90 degrees as it exhausts me.

    Best wishes, and hope you are able to cool yourself in Africa.

    • lsmittle says:

      Yes, Gabriele, my hair is in a pony tail most days – and long enough to stay in it (almost always).
      It’s nice to be influencing behavior in America. And even if behavior doesn’t change, people may be more aware of their behavior – the first step toward making any changes.

      I’ve adjusted to the temperatures. It was 85 yesterday and I was comfortably cool. I put on long sleeves – like the wonderful top my MJ friends gave me – when temperatures dip to the 70s. AND… it’s nice to have electricity so I can sit in front of the floor fan when it’s in the 90s or 100s.

      Best wishes, my friend.

  8. Hey, I really love your ideas for the water sachets. We are working in education here in Ghana as well and like the idea of the jumping rope. Could you possibly send me a step by step guide how to do it? just to make sure we understood…
    Thank you so much! Love, Julia

  9. Kendal says:

    I just went to Ghana last month and discovered these little baggies! I felt bad throwing them away (I knew they’d just end up in a pile on the ground somewhere) so I brought a bunch of empty ones home. Have to think of something to make with them. 🙂

    • lsmittle says:

      Kendal, have fun creating some interesting items with the pure water sachets. Let me know if you would like me to send you a PDF file with some ideas and instructions.

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  11. Melissa says:

    Hello there ! Wonderful work with the water sachets. I’m a peace corps volunteer in Togo and your website inspired me to get the locals interested in their many uses! I just finished a trellis in my yard for vines to climb with the sachets. The kids are very excited to make soccer nets, a woman who is interested in making bags, and a man who wants to make a fence! 🙂 I would love copies of all your PDF instructions for different things you have made. Thanks!

  12. Alice says:

    I love your work. My school is having an event called ‘Trash to treasure’ and some of your works inspired my group in our creations. We also have a presentation on dropping sachet bags around. Whether it is justified just because some people make money by picking them up. your work gave me some ideas for the presentation. Thanks. 🙂

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