DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania – The blanket ban on plastic bags Tanzania introduced three years ago has unleashed a huge market potential for eco-friendly paper bags, creating new opportunities for local traders who reap bigger profits.

Tanzania effected its ban on single-use plastic bags in June 2019, prohibiting the use, manufacture or importation of thin polyethylene bags, with offenders risking jail time or a hefty fine.

The new policy has yielded positive results as alternative paper bags and packaging materials have become available in several marketing centers, according to officials.

“The ban of plastic was a blessing in disguise, although I had incurred some loss, switching to paper bag business is more profitable,” entrepreneur hawker Lilian Kamnyoge told Anadolu Agency ahead of the World Paper Bag Day to be observed July 12.

Kamnyoge said the ban has made her more creative and she is working hard to supply paper bags to hotels, restaurants and bars in the nation’s capital, Dar es Salaam.

“Many people are becoming used to paper bags, thin plastic bags are out of the sight --not in a single place,” she said.

In the port city, the ubiquitous single-use plastic bags, which had become a tricky enemy, have largely disappeared, according to residents.

“The government has succeeded to eliminate this plastic bag menace, with ongoing education people will learn to care for the environment,” Kamnyonge said.

Toxic chemicals

For decades, scientists have sounded the alarm about the dangers of plastic bags which not only pollute the ocean but shed toxic chemicals into the ecosystem and taint food webs.

As the East African country is working to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030, experts warned that single-use paper bags that are now widely used can be just as destructive.

“When you ban plastic bags you must ensure reusable alternatives are friendly to the environment, but that is not the case,” environmental activist Gregory Isaac said.

He told the Türkiye's news agency that for the ban to be more effective, it should be aimed at changing the behavior of consumers.

“It is a good start but we have a long way to go because even the re-usable thick plastic in the end is bad for the environment,” he said.

While the ban has inflicted huge losses to manufacturers and traders, observers said it has created new opportunities for businesses.

"I have seen a 30 percent growth of our business in the past two years. If the ban on polyethylene is properly enforced our business is bound to grow even more," Fayaz Hirji, owner of Cutex, a paper bag manufacturer and supplier in Dar es Salaam, told Anadolu Agency.

Increasing awareness

Hirji joined the paper bag manufacturing business five years ago and said the demand started rising two years ago because of increasing awareness of the dangers that plastic bags posed to the environment and a willingness of consumers to use a cleaner alternative.

The company produces all types of paper bags, shopping bags and paper gift bags.

Hirji said brown paper bags are most in demand among business owners and residents.

"We supply paper bags and envelopes for takeaway food packaging to many businesses,” he said.

Tanzania has imposed harsher penalties for those caught producing, selling and importing single-use thin polyethylene bags but the country is still struggling to get rid of plastic waste.

In the bustling Tegeta open air market on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, thin polyethylene bags have disappeared, banished by the national plastic bag ban.

Traders in the busy market pack perishables in thicker bags made from synthetic fabric while others use paper bags.

Durable plastic

On one humid morning, Zuhura Kajuna, 26, prepares to arrange her vegetables on a maze of wooden stalls with her baby strapped in the back.

She briskly unpacks tomatoes, onions, ginger, and cucumbers from canvas sacks and places them on the stall under an umbrella shade to shield them from the blazing sun.

A man pops up on a motorcycle and drops off paper and reusable plastic bags at Kajuna’s stall.

Made from thick plastic that is more durable and easier to recycle, Kajuna said the bags are friendly to the environment.

“I wouldn’t say the ban on plastic bags is 100% successful because we still use them although these are thicker and of a higher quality,” Kajuna told Anadolu Agency.

Since Tanzania enforced a plastic bag ban in 2019 with tougher penalties, alternative paper bags are widely used at markets and shopping centers. (Anadolu)