Tigray Coffee Co. based in Abuja, Nigeria, is a finalist for the 2023 Circular Economy Grant. Owner and founder, Richard Ali, explains how the brand is tackling packaging waste in the country by investing in biodegradable coffee bags.
The estimated lifetime cost associated with the volume of plastic produced in 2019 reached a value of over $3.7 trillion. This is according to a 2021 report conducted by the global consulting firm Dalberg. Essentially, that is more than the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of India.
Nigeria generates over 2.5 million tons of plastic waste annually. Roughly 88% of the plastic waste in the country does not get recycled. Instead, much of it contaminates local lakes, rivers, and lagoons that feed into the ocean.
Richard Ali from Tigray Coffee Co. explains why his business has opted for biodegradable coffee packaging, and what they’re doing to bring more sustainable alternatives to the local coffee market.
Exploring speciality coffee in Nigeria
Notably, Nigeria is predominantly a nation that consumes tea and cocoa. Current estimates predict two consumables will account for 40% of the country’s spending across all non-alcoholic drinks by the end of 2023.
However, back in the early 20th century, coffee was a booming industry within the country. The government was providing farmers with arabica and robusta seedlings, and developing infrastructure to support the expansion of the domestic coffee sector.
The shift from agriculture to oil saw a decline in domestic coffee production. In 2022, less than 50,000 (60kg) bags of speciality coffee were produced.
Richard notes a decline in production in the coffee-growing Jos Plateau, Cross River and Taraba regions. Even with that, he says a fresh wave of entrepreneurs is bringing the emphasis on locally produced coffee back to the Nigerian market. The National Coffee and Tea Association of Nigeria (NACOFTAN) has also become more active in the last five years, with a specialised state agency in the works.
“While we’ve lost generations of coffee production, we’re now seeing younger entrepreneurs setting up cafes, which eventually give birth to a need for roasteries,” Richard explains. “There are now several companies that have made specialty coffee more accessible.”
Admittedly, the coffee culture is still somewhat in its infancy. However, the team at Tigray Coffee Co is committed to educating consumers on how coffee is being produced, processed, and roasted in their country.
“There has been an increase in the number of cafes in major urban centres such as Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Kaduna,” Richard adds. “These establishments certainly see foot traffic every day, but the economics of it are not quite right.”
To explain, the average price of a latte in Nigeria is roughly between $7 and $10 – a steep price to pay in a country where the minimum wage is around $38 per month. Therefore, home brewing methods and instant coffee, such as Nestlé, remain the most popular alternatives for the majority of consumers.
Nigerians are somewhat still undecided when it comes to choosing a preferred roasting style, Richard implies. “Most roasteries, including ours, provide arabica coffee, but there is also a small number who roast robusta beans.”
Understanding Nigeria’s coffee waste
Plastic waste has become a common issue in Nigeria, prompting the government to intervene in recent years. Officials are looking to resolve the country’s reliance on plastic and unclog the rivers and canals that are now littered with thousands of tonnes of waste.
Single-use items and polythene bags, also known as ‘nylon’ bags in Nigeria, are the most common plastic waste found in both cities and rural areas. Richard explains that improper disposal and inefficient recycling infrastructure have led to a surge in plastic waste coming from homes and businesses. As previously mentioned, this often pollutes the natural water bodies nearby.
Non-biodegradable plastics have become a major environmental issue and also pose health risks to those living outside of urban areas. Studies show traces of microplastics have been found in local crops and food sources.
“Research indicates the presence of microplastics in foods, such as the popular ewedu (jute) leaves used to make a Nigerian soup,” Richard says. “Non-biodegradable, single-use plastics present a major threat to the environment and public health in Nigeria.”
This is why Tigray Coffee Co. has adopted biodegradable plastic alternatives. In doing so, the brand is helping to educate consumers about plastic waste pollution and the long-term effects it can have on their health and the development of the country.
There is a strong need to shift consumer practice radically to enable a more circular economy. However, policies are coming into place to support small and medium enterprises in adopting more sustainable alternatives in their business activities.
The benefits of biodegradable coffee packaging
Tigray Coffee Co. uses high-barrier kraft paper ziplock bags for its coffee packaging, as it is both multi-use and biodegradable. Kraft paper is made using the kraft process, which involves the chemical conversion of wood into wood pulp. Once the lignin and cellulose fibres of the wood are separated, the cellulose pulp is strained and formed into kraft paper. It is a strong and environmentally friendly option.
To ensure the benefits of biodegradable packaging are maximised, consumers need to be aware of how to correctly dispose of it. This is vital to reduce waste and minimise the impact on the environment.
This is why Tigray Coffee Co. has committed itself to supporting the development and further establishment of more appropriate plastic recycling initiatives. “We understand the need to teach younger generations to become conscious citizens,” Richard says. Furthermore, he believes collaborating with other agents of socialisation, such as traditional institutions and women’s organisations, would benefit an entire community of citizens.
He adds that further measures throughout the supply chain and day-to-day café activities would also need to become more widely exercised. “Certifications are always a good guide. In our industry, there are certifications such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) which guarantees the paper is sourced from sustainably grown forests.”
The Nigerian paper industry is still highly import-dependent, requiring deliberation between government and industry to introduce more sustainable measures. Richard says it comes down to fostering a sustainable mindset and sourcing sustainable alternatives. “We must also cooperate to find African solutions to this African problem.”
Richard and the team at Tigray Coffee Co. are steadily forming the foundation of sustainable packaging in places like Nigeria. At the same time, the brand is helping consumers and roasters understand the benefits of using sustainable alternatives such as biodegradable packaging and the long-term effects this will have on their environment and well-being.
At MTPak Coffee, we understand the importance of looking after not only the world’s forests but the entire planet for future generations. As such, we can guarantee that all our paper-based coffee packaging, including our kraft paper bags, are from forests that have been certified by the FSC.
Furthermore, by switching to biodegradable materials for your packaging, whether it’s kraft paper, rice paper or PLA, you are, in effect, showcasing your commitment to environmental sustainability to your consumers. It also demonstrates an ability to keep abreast of new trends, giving people confidence and trust in the quality of your product.
Images from Tigray Coffee Co.