Nigeria’s street food contributes to plastic problem, vendors to shift to leaf packaging

NIGERIA – Nigerian street food hawking has been found to contribute to plastic pollution as most vendors use plastic bags for packaging fast food.

Most of the local food delicacies are sold by vendors whose livelihoods depend on informal subsistence activities such as local food production and street food hawking. They are part of Nigeria’s vast informal sector, which accounts for 57.7% of the country’s economy.

The West African country faces an unreliable power supply which in turn limits refrigeration capacity for food production. This poses challenges to vendors trying to preserve their food.

To this end, researchers have explored the possibility of using natural leaves as an alternative packaging material for traditional foods in Nigeria.

While leaves have long been used in rural areas, their potential use in cities remains largely unexplored.

The researchers comprehensively analyzed academic literature, policy briefs and project documents from governmental and nongovernmental organizations to understand the environmental advantages of leaf-type packaging materials.

Benefits of leaf packaging

The research highlighted the environmental benefits of using leaf packaging and proposed a model to ensure its sustainability.

The model focuses on the principles of food protection, appeal and preservation of taste and nutrition while prioritizing public health and environmental safety.

The researchers argue that reviving the use of natural leaf-type packaging in Nigerian cities could have significant positive impacts.

To implement this model effectively, the researchers recommend the establishment of strong institutions and policies to oversee the local food industry.

They emphasize the importance of informing food, health and environmental policy decisions in Nigeria and other developing regions based on their work.

In rural areas, green leaves are readily available from backyard farms, nearby forests and bushes where people cultivate the source plant species for daily convenience. These packaging materials are processed naturally or organically.

However, in urban areas such materials are scarce. As a result, people resort to using discarded cans, old newspapers, foil, cellophane and polythene bags as substitutes.

The research emphasizes that the traditional use of vegetable leaf wrappers for specific Nigerian delicacies such as ogiri (spices), ukpaka (bean seed) and fufu (cassava) offers numerous advantages.

Green leaf packages effectively retain nutrients, facilitate easy handling, transportation and distribution of food products and protect them from deterioration.

Environmentally, using vegetable leaves instead of synthetic packaging on a bigger industrial scale might cut down on carbon emissions. Used leaves also degrade quickly.

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