Profit-making idea: Alternative packaging and carrier bags in Tanzania

In 2019, Tanzania’s government banned plastic carrier bags and prohibited people from selling beverages or other commodities wrapped in plastics unless the nature of the product required it. Technically, this means no one is allowed to import, export, manufacture, sell, supply, store or use plastic wrappings or plastic carrier bags within mainland Tanzania, apart from its use in exempted industries.

Even for the exempted industries (including food processing, agriculture, and medical services), the government regulations require suppliers and users to ensure that the waste is managed and disposed of in line with good environmental management.

According to Tahira Nizari, co-founder of Tanzanian agribusiness Kazi Yetu, which produces organic and fair-trade tea for export, the impact of the ban provides major opportunities for companies that produce alternative packaging.

Kazi Yetu uses sustainable, eco-friendly, and biodegradable packaging and tea bags for its products, some of which currently must be sourced from abroad.

“A lot of the locally available options in the country, or region, are still plastic or boxes that are not food friendly. If you are packaging food it needs to be sealable and meet the relevant health and hygiene standards,” she says. “It can’t go directly into the box without being sealed first.”

“There are a couple of representatives from European suppliers of alternative packaging in the country at the moment, but this option is quite expensive, and not local.”

Nizari also believes that new players would be successful if they lower their minimum order quantities. This would make their products a viable option for smaller businesses that don’t have the working capital for the large single orders currently required (often around 20,000 units per order).

To meet the demand of small businesses, a packaging company could raise its per unit cost slightly but gain loyal customers who are willing to pay if their order numbers can be smaller.

“I don’t think the initial investment would be too high. It really is a great opportunity, and I am not seeing enough interest at the moment,” she says.