Hazards of Plastic Waste in Nigeria

Globally, Nigeria is ranked ninth for plastic pollution with an estimated 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste generated annually and less than 12 per cent recycled. In this report, Ugo Aliogo highlights the consequences of indiscriminate disposal of waste in Nigeria

Recently, the President of the Lagos Recyclers Association, Femi Idowu-Adegoke said Nigeria’s recycling industry has been estimated to be worth a staggering $2 billion, but has struggled to live up to this lofty estimation due to the menace of indiscriminate disposal of waste

Being a megacity with approximately 22 million inhabitants, Lagos State is said to generate 870,000 tonnes of plastic waste annually.

The United Nations has stated that plastic waste in Nigeria has been on the increase due to the increasing consumption of plastics by citizens across the country.

The UN Industrial Development Organisation stated that the consumption of plastics in Nigeria jumped by 116.26 per cent within a period of 15 years to 1.25 million tons

The UNIDO Country Representative and Regional Director for West Africa, Jean Bakole, revealed that as the most populated nation with the largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on the African continent, Nigeria’s plastic waste problem is on the increase.

He said, “This is based on its increased consumption from 578,000 tonnes of plastics in 2007 to about 1,250,000 tonnes. Therefore, the per capita plastic consumption has grown by five per cent annually from 4kg to 6.5kg. It is estimated that each citizen would consume about 7.5kg of plastics per year

He noted that over the years, the mismanagement of plastic waste was not only contaminating the ecosystem, but was also being released into the marine environment, thereby polluting it and threatening biodiversity and negatively impacting the blue economy.

The UN official said, “Mismanaged plastics and ineffective waste management is also a source of GHG (Greenhouse gas) emissions. A study by Scientific African revealed that in spite of the enormous physiological and toxicological effects of plastic pollution, there are scanty data on the occurrence, distribution and potential effects of plastic pollution in various environmental matrices in African countries such as Nigeria. Being the largest African country in terms of population size, Nigeria is a prime consumer of plastic and consequent contributor to global plastic pollution

The study, he added, also noted that globally, Nigeria is ranked ninth for plastic pollution with an estimated 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste generated annually and less than 12 per cent recycled.

Ban on Styrofoam

To address the menace, the Lagos State government recently announced a ban on the usage and distribution of Styrofoam (Take-way) and other single-use plastics in the state with immediate effect.

The Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources, Tokunbo Wahab, said the decision was reached following the menace that single-use plastics, especially the non-biodegradable Styrofoam, were causing on the environment

He remarked that most drainage channels in the state are daily clogged up by Styrofoam through their indiscriminate distribution and usage despite the regular cleaning and evacuation of the drains with humongous amounts.

Reiterating that the larger chunk of littering across major roads and markets, which Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) contends with daily is made up of Styrofoam, Wahab added that the state government cannot fold its hands and watch the continued desecration of its environment, especially as a coastal city

Wahab has subsequently directed LAWMA and the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) to commence the immediate implementation of the ban.

The Commissioner charged the two agencies to clamp down on all the production companies and distribution outlets for Styrofoam in the state to prevent further distribution.

He explained that the State took the present action, relying on several enabling laws and regulations such as the National Environmental (Sanitation and Waste Control) Regulation 2009 which was established under the NESREA Act that prohibited and specifically banned single-use plastic in the country but has not been enforced

Other laws, according to Wahab, include the 2017 State Environmental Management and Protection Law which states under section 56(I) (Y), “Prevent, stop or discontinue any activity or omission, which is likely to cause harm or has caused harm to human health or the environment.”

He advised producers, distributors, and end-users of these Styrofoam packs to take the ban seriously and find alternatives or risk heavy fines, and other penalties including the sealing of their premises.

He warned that they could also be made to bear the costs of the daily clean up of their products from their roads and drainage channels which runs into tens of millions of naira daily

Our state cannot be held hostage to the economic interests of a few wealthy business owners compared to the millions of Lagosians suffering the consequences of indiscriminate dumping of single-use plastics and other types of waste, ”he stated.

Expert View

The Project Officer, Waste Management Environmental Rights Action-Friends of the Earth Nigeria, (ERA/FoEN), Melody Enyinaya, in an interview with THISDAY, said the prevalence of single use plastic in our daily lives contributes significantly to plastic pollution, and these single used items are often used once and then discarded leading to continuous influx of plastic waste into the environment

She noted that the other issue is inadequate infrastructures and resources which is responsible for improper waste management leading to littering, illegal dumping allowing of plastic waste to accumulate in the environment rather than being properly disposed of, adding that in most cases, there is a limited regulatory framework to regulate and reduce plastic pollution.

She further explained that the production of plastics continues to increase which overwhelms waste management systems and exacerbates pollution levels, adding that there is a lack of political will from industry stakeholders to implement stricter regulations on plastic production and use

According to her, “Nigeria is yet to fully tap into the waste to wealth initiative, we still run a linear economy. These are the things the Zero Waste Model ERA/FoEN is championing/promoting deals with. The zero-waste model sees waste as a resource and doesn’t admit to dumpsites rather creation of Material Recovery Facilities (MRF) where all waste is useful.

“Corporate organisations have a responsibility to take proactive measures to reduce their plastic footprint through reducing the amount of plastic used in their products and packaging to mitigate the environmental impacts of plastic waste. This will involve redesigning packaging products to be reusable and Refillable, adopting alternative materials that are compostable

Enyinaya further explained that companies have a role in educating consumers about the environmental impacts of plastic waste and promoting sustainable consumption habits, adding that this can involve raising awareness about plastic waste reduction and offering incentives for eco-friendly behaviours

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