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Challenges faced with solid waste management

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By Usman Oladimeji

Yearly waste production is expected to reach 107 million tonnes by 2050.

Over the last three decades, millions of Nigerians have flocked to the country major cities in search for better economic opportunities. The World Bank revealed that every hour, the population of Lagos increases by 77 people. This upward trajectory in population is also shared by other major cities in the country, including Abuja, Ibadan, and Port Harcourt. Consequently, there has been a dramatic rise in the amount of garbage produced, putting a heavy burden on city authorities to strengthen their solid waste management strategies, particularly in low-income communities.

The World Bank estimates that by 2050, Nigerian yearly solid waste production would have increased from the current 32 million tonnes to 107 million tonnes. Two-thirds of urban houses in low-income areas lack proper management services, but in middle-class and affluent neighbourhoods, garbage is frequently collected. As a result, only 30% of all garbage produced is appropriately collected and disposed. This fact indicates an adverse future for city dwellers in low-income communities, who generate too much garbage for their limited resources to handle, leading to a myriad of environmental and health issues.

Nigeria is among nations with the highest exposure to pollution.

Without a proper management system, most people just leave their trash by the roadside, let it pile up, or throw it in landfills. Meanwhile, some become street trash or cause clogs in drainage systems by making their way to surrounding streams and water channels. From time to time, water seeps into the landfill, bringing toxins with it that might eventually end up in the food chain or drinking water sources through the groundwater aquifer or surrounding water bodies. The improper disposal of batteries and other potentially dangerous chemical residue can cause dioxins to leak into the soil and contaminate the area.

Also, burning organic trash in the open streets emits toxins into the environment, which may lead to respiratory system health issues. Recent World Bank report “Detox Development: Repurposing Environmentally Harmful Subsidies” identified Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and India as the three nations with the highest exposure to pollution and environmental dangers. There is a clear correlation between the multi-level failure in solid waste management and the spread of diseases in low-income areas. This is because unsanitary household garbage provides an ideal environment for the breeding of several disease-causing vectors.

Ignoring management in one region might affect the whole city.

Two major reasons have contributed to and maintained a long-standing practice of improper trash disposal in Nigeria low-income areas. Firstly, trash collection in urban areas across Nigeria has been outsourced to commercial firms, who often disregard low-income neighbourhoods, viewed as unprofitable areas. The close proximity of all areas in a city means that ignoring waste management in one region might have devastating consequences for the entire city as a whole. Thus, putting waste management at the forefront in low-income areas is essential for avoiding health risks and ensuring a clean environment.

Secondly, most individuals in low-income areas have a very limited understanding of environmental issues, so they continue to engage in highly hazardous trash disposal and other environmental practices without realizing the dangers they pose. This necessitates continual sensitization on the need of keeping the environment clean and embracing environmentally friendly attitudes among people of low-income areas. Residents also need to be incentivized to sort their trash into biodegradable, compostable, reusable, and recyclable components. In the long run, these changes will result in a healthier environment.

Policymakers and city officials need to create a multi-level plan.

Existing rules on household trash management are ineffective because they prescribe a single standard for household waste management across every area of cities and towns, leaving out socioeconomic disparities between these diverse neighbourhoods. Policymakers and city officials need to create a multi-level plan and blueprint for the collection, management, recycling, and disposal of household trash in low-income neighbourhoods to guarantee effective waste management there. These strategies must be designed to promote a healthy environment, access to clean air, and protection of water sources and groundwater aquifers.

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