Today June 5, 2018, Nigeria joins the rest of the world to celebrate this year’s World Environment Day. And rightly so, like this year’s Earth Day earlier marked on Sunday April 22, 2018 with focus on plastic wastes, World Environment Day 2018 also focuses on plastic pollution with the theme, Beat Plastic Pollution, and slogan “If you cannot reuse it, refuse” (Hash tags: #WorldEnvironmentDay #BeatPlasticPollution). Apparently, the message is spreading that the world must do more to combat the menace of plastic wastes, lest, one day we would wake up, to find our oceans completely buried beneath piles of plastics, and our roads overtaken by heaps of plastic wastes.
Waste management has been one of the leading fastest growing sub-sectors in Nigeria and like we believe at Wastesmart Initiative, waste management can be a leading bulwark of innovation, entrepreneurship and fair wealth distribution In Nigeria. Going forward, how should we address Nigeria’s plastic waste problem? I offer a few suggestions on how to beat plastic pollution in Nigeria.
One aspect in the fight against plastic wastes and push towards efficient resource management is product design and development. The conceptualization of the product by the manufacturer’s team is often where the problem starts from. Can we produce more products with less material, at higher quality and at cheaper costs? Can we reduce wastes even before real production of the products begin? Yes, we can. Now, this is where research comes in. In the hunt for better ways, product design and development places huge emphasis on research. More work must go into finding better, cheaper and smarter ways of producing more effective models of the same products using less material. Objective research would also help us find whole or partial substitutes to plastics, or to discover safer, readily available alternative components that can be incorporated during industrial production of plastics. There have been talks on degradable plastics. It would be interesting to see a breakthrough in the coming years which would see such products produced in commercial quantities.
Across the world, majority of people use at least, one piece of plastic every day. There is at least, one plastic material in every home at any given time. So, while we may not all be able to avoid using plastics, at least, not at this time, we can all be more conscious of how we use plastics and what we do with the wastes the plastic generates.
This year’s World Environment Day places emphasis on reuse. By reusing plastic materials, we can effectively cut plastic wastes by a whopping 50%. Do you have to be given a new plastic bag each time you go shopping at the mall or market? No. You can simply bring along and reuse the plastic bags from previous shopping trips. There’s nothing sophisticated or smart in producing the highest amount of avoidable wastes. We must sing the 5R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse, Recover) song until it becomes a hymn on every lip. We must teach children, teenagers, and in deed, every one, sustainable waste management practices.
Waste management is still poorly regulated across Nigeria. In many States, government is still locked, wasting away, wasting scarce resources by being actively passive about waste collection. But evidence shows that the government cannot be an effective monopoly in the sector, at least, not in the mode it is currently playing. What the government should be doing is creating the right policies and conducive environment for the private sector to thrive. Government has too much in its table than to have its fingers in every pie. In some other States, government interference means political favoritism which sacrifices competence on the table of political expediencies.
Tied to the altruistic goal to beat plastic pollution is an effective collaboration between the private and public sectors. Government alone cannot manage the wastes the public produces, nor should the private sector be given free rein to do as it pleases. Lagos alone currently produces 20,000MT of wastes per day while Nigeria produces over 300,000 MT per day. Those are enormous amounts of wastes for any one government to bear all by its self. This is where the private sector comes in, and every stakeholder must do their part. Government’s role primarily entails putting the right policies in place, improving municipal waste management systems and creating an enabling environment to help innovations from the private sector thrive.
Take Lagos for example, where many have said the past few months have seen a retrogression of some sort in waste collection due to what is akin to a policy somersault by the government. The jury is out on Lagos and with searchlight being beamed on its response to the perceived systemic failure of Visionscape, the greenhorn company that was perhaps hastily and wrongly awarded a price for doing nothing and assigned a responsibility that seemed far more than what its experience, capability or logistics could carry! Apart from organic wastes, plastic wastes are the second largest waste group. Sadly these days, in every corner of Lagos, heaps of wastes host swats of houseflies and dangerous rodents. The stench has become so unbearable; you wonder if it was not the same Lagos that was so clean just a few years ago. Lagos has never been dirtier than it had been in the past twelve months. Every street and corner in Lagos reeks of pungent smell emanating from piles of wastes that have refused to be evacuated. Lagos cannot be let slide back into the dark days of plastic litters. This rot can and must be arrested. Rather than relapse, we need to forge ahead to beat plastic pollution.
While Lagos and Nigeria are not alone, waste management is a global problem, hence, the focus of this year’s Earth Day and World Environment Day celebrations. Part of the reason we have such a critical waste problem on our hands all over the world is a lack of environmental leadership. Leadership is not about who takes the credit. Leadership is not about an individual shining or State institution fettering before him. It is about institutions operating optimally irrespective of who is at the helms. The world needs leadership to address its waste problems. For so long, there were no policies in place to proactively address the problem.
Taking the lead, discussions are currently underway in Europe on a ban across the European Union on the use of single-use plastics such as straws, disposable cups and polythene bags. That is a welcome development and the way to go in Nigeria. But then, in 2015, Nigeria became one of the few African countries to adopt the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program when the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Federal Ministry of Environment and NESREA (National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency), adopted a comprehensive EPR policy, the first of such in the country’s history! However, focus must now turn to full and robust implementation of that policy across the country.
In the past five years, multiple multimillionaire companies recycling plastics have sprung up in Nigeria. Yes, the message is sinking that a circular economy is a goldmine. But more still needs to be done. While more recycling companies are springing up in Nigeria, majority of plastic wastes are not recycled in Nigeria. Interestingly, up until the recent ban on importation of plastic wastes into China by Chinese authorities, majority of plastic wastes from Nigeria were exported to China, a situation that also meant shipping away jobs, revenue and other opportunities to Nigeria and Nigerians. Thankfully, more and more recycling companies are opening in Nigeria to make up for the shortfall in amount of wastes recycled within Nigeria. Making recycling within Nigeria fashionable, safe and profitable must be a top priority!
Another downside to recycling is that some recycling companies create new environmental pollution problems because of the poor, costly and inefficient technologies they adopt, putting them at loggerheads with their host communities and environmental regulators. It must be said that creating new problems while solving an existing problem is not a sustainable model. Recycling companies must be the cheerleaders of environmental sustainability by adopting international best practices!
In conclusion, if we must beat plastic pollution, we must turn a new leaf: We must prioritise research; nurture and harness innovations; strengthen public institutions such as those charged with enforcement of environmental laws, municipal waste management etc.; enact the right policies and effectively implement them; pay more attention to building local capacity; and encourage private participation.
From all of us at Wastesmart, here is wishing you a Happy World Environment Day 2018 (WED 2018) celebrations!
- Idowu Kunlere
We say thank you to everyone that turned up for yesterday’s Environmental Awareness/Road Walk. Trust you had a swell time? If you would be in Ibadan today, do join us by 10am for a public lecture to mark today’s World Environment Day 2018 organised by NESREA, South-West Zone, Ibadan, in conjunction with FRIN (Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria), Ibadan. Theme: Beat Plastic Pollution. Venue: FRIN Headquarters, Jericho, Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. You are cordially invited. See you there.
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