This startup has supplied more than 12 million paper bags to businesses across Africa

Which crime do you think deserves a fine of US $ 38,000 and / or four years in prison? In Kenya, you only need to make, import or sell a plastic bag and you can spend up to four years in prison with or without a fine.

Using plastic bags as a consumer could cost you over US $ 500 in fines and up to a year in prison. This law, which was passed in 2017, is said to be the government’s most punitive stance on single-use plastic bags around the world.

But it has yielded tangible results, including fewer plastic bags found in the stomachs of cows slaughtered in slaughterhouses in urban Kenya. Before that date, the National Environment Agency declared 50% of cattle slaughtered in urban areas had plastic bags in their stomachs, result of grazing in areas polluted by tens of millions of plastic bags thrown away every year in Kenya.

From Rwanda to Tanzania, African countries have taken the lead to combat the climate effect of single-use polyethylene and polypropylene plastic bags which are used by the trillions each year around the world, but which take a thousand years to decompose.

Last year, a bill banning the manufacture and use of plastic in Nigeria passed its second reading in the Senate, a decision of the President of the Polymer Institute of Nigeria (PIN), Professor Paul Mamza, called lazy.

If approved, a three-year prison sentence and a fine of US $ 1,350 awaits those using or companies providing plastic bags.

In Lagos, the eco-sustainable company, The Paper Packaging Company (TPPC), is positioning itself to fill the void when and if this ban takes effect in a country without a single functional paper mill.

The war on plastic

Plastic is a complex synthetic material made from rearranged natural polymers. The resulting product, so ubiquitous in our daily lives, is a durable, lightweight material that takes 500 to 1,000 years to decompose wherever it is found: landfills, incineration sites or in water, where it is found. not only endanger aquatic environments. life, but human and animal consumers up the food chain.

According to The New Plastic Economy, a 2016 report According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 8 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the ocean each year and by 2050 the volume of plastic will exceed the volume of fish. Chemicals in plastic such as bisphenol A (BPA), which explains the transparent nature of plastic, phthalates, are found in our food, water or air either through microwave heating, incineration or consumption by smaller zooplankton, and pose health risks from diabetes to neurological defects.

It has therefore become a global concern to know what happens to all the plastic we produce and use, and how to curb its harmful effects on our environment.

Alternatives to paper in the absence of paper

TPPC officially started production in 2015 and has since garnered more than 5,000 customers, of which 1,000 make recurring purchases every 30 days. Many include food companies in Lagos including Woks and Koi, Green Gourmet as well as EbonyLife Cinemas. At the beginning of this month, the company won a grant of 12 million naira (US $ 32,600) to ARM’s Deji Alli Young Talent Award (DAAYTA) program.

“Our paper mills in Nigeria are not functioning,” co-founder Efe Oguegbu told TechCabal.

“So what we do is we import the raw material which is paper, and when we get them we then start production in the different products that we have: paper bags, sandwich boxes. , pizza boxes, etc. ”

TPPC has supplied more than 12 million different types of paper to businesses since 2015

Nigeria is spending US $ 136 million on importing papers annually, based on data from the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC). None of the country’s three major paper mills have been operational for years and experts have blamed the non-availability of high-fiber trees, among other things, as the reasons for the non-functionality of these paper mills raising questions about the alternatives available in the event that the plastic ban goes into effect in the country.

In the event of a ban, it will be no different from the situation in Lagos’ transport sector, where law enforcement is usually followed only by measures to ameliorate any destabilization that arises.

“While we believe this is a step in the right direction, we also believe that the government must put in place sufficient measures to ensure that when the change occurs there will be enough businesses and resources to cushion this effect, ”Oguegbu said.

Now, with countries like Rwanda and Kenya successfully enforcing a ban and as the continent’s economic hub, Oguegbu believes that even if the bill is stalled, internal and external pressures will intensify to quash the bill. ‘a final law comes into force.

“We’ve had clients here who have said their investors are going to withdraw or cut funding altogether if they don’t switch to sustainable packaging.”

So far, TPPC has been able to replace over 12 million plastic packaging with its eco-friendly packaging that ranges from pizza and sandwich boxes to gift bags.

“For every product we make, that’s one less plastic bag someone has to use.”

Oguegbu says that in addition to paper, the company is also looking to explore other sustainable materials like pulp or bamboo instead of relying entirely on paper and stationery.

The reverse of paper packaging alternatives

Although it is miles from plastic when it comes to its environmental impact, there are still concerns about the use of paper as an alternative to plastic packaging.

A single sheet of A4 paper requires between two and 13 liters of water to produce; 100 million hectares of forests are felled each year to feed the global paper industry. When you factor in the amount of carbon emissions resulting from the production process, using paper as an alternative that will save our environment becomes questionable.

For TPPC, for whom this production process does not take place, sourcing paper from eco-sensitive paper producers is essential.

“In addition to partnering with suppliers who take these things seriously, we also have our own measures in place here to ensure that even in our own local production here, we are not releasing as much CO.2“, says Oguegbu.

“We’re not that big on machines because there are a lot of machines here in Nigeria that are not being fully utilized, so instead of having more machines and potentially releasing more CO2 in the environment, we rely more on other people’s machines, ”she adds.

In addition to this, through an offline network called The Anchor, and online through social media platforms, TPPC engages in critical discussions and education on environmental sustainability and how businesses and individuals can adopt basic best practices to ensure they take care of the environment.

Arguably, recycling paper gives back a large percentage of what is consumed in its production process, but there are also concerns about how many times you can actually recycle paper (5-6 times) before its fibers become too weak to make material more useful. Additionally, especially for the majority of food businesses served by TPPC, food stains can become a problem during the recycling process, as the quality of the paper makes the recycling process efficient.

However, its advantages in replacing plastic far outweigh those disadvantages.

“It is the safest alternative to plastic,” Oguegbu emphasizes, but saving our environment remains a collective effort of governments, organizations and end users.

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Ethel J. Montes

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