On the microblogging platform, Twitter, a photo of a neighbourhood on the islands of Lagos recently surfaced and sparked debate. The reason is that the area is known as the residence of the elite, the upper-class people of the Nigerian society. By this, it means that the area is occupied by people who are financially well-off. However, what surprised online users was that used bottles lined the streets and even blocked the drainages. One user specifically asked how it was possible for plastics to cause the neighborhood to smell when the residents do not actively litter in the streets.
It is safe to conclude then that Nigeria has a plastic waste disposal problem. Because from the slums of Ajegunle to the shiny streets of Victoria Island, the product is found almost everywhere. Single-use plastic (SUP), or disposable plastic, is any plastic item that is used once, and then thrown in the trash. Even if the product is marked disposable, it is single-use if it is designed to be thrown away after use. Statistics on this are very concerning as about 90 percent of the material is never recycled after it is disposed.
Waste management agency aims to reduce plastic waste by 50%.
SUPs are commonly used for packaging. They include items such as nylon carriage bags, grocery bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, cups and cutlery. Some Nigerians attempt to distinguish the harder form of the material from the softer kind. However, whether flexible or hard, they are made from the same material and contribute exactly the same to the environment. This material is used in practically all packaging in Nigeria. Even traders and market people depend solely on it.
Managing Nigeria’s plastic waste crisis has remained a major issue. Recently, the Federal Government imposed a 10-percent tax on the product ahead of its proposed ban by 2028. The National Policy on Plastic Waste Management also aims to reduce plastic waste generation in the environment by 50 percent of its baseline figure of 2020 by 2025. It intends to phase out SUP bags and Styrofoam by 2028 and ensure that all packaging in the market is recyclable or biodegradable by 2030.
Many people worry about the use of plastics in Nigeria.
The Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) estimates that Nigeria generates 35 million tons of municipal solid waste yearly, out of which 10 to 15 percent are plastics. On the global scale, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s recent report from Pollution to Solution shows that there is currently between 75 to 199 million tons of plastic waste in the ocean. In 2016, between 9 to 14 million tons of waste was dumped in the aquatic ecosystem. This number is estimated to have almost tripled to 23 to 37 million tons per year by 2040.
Plastics account for 85 percent of all marine waste: the largest, most harmful and most persistent of all marine litter. A retired Professor of Environmental Chemistry and Chairman from the Centre for Environmental Human Resources Development, University of Lagos, Babajide Alao, told the media that cutting off SUP usage will better humanity and physical environment. He said that the tax policy will increase costs of goods. Hopefully, people stop using the material and switch to biodegradable paper bags.
Other experts also weighed in on the concerning issue.
Also, the executive director of Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development (SRADev Nigeria), Dr. Leslie Adogame, said that the tax would encourage a continued production of SUP. “Evidence around Africa on countries that are implementing a tax-based approach shows that management of SUP remains a challenge, as SUP production or import will increase,” she said. A group of civil society, under the aegis of Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Nigeria, has also called on the Federal Government to ban single-use plastics with effect from year 2024 as against the current 2028 date contained in the proposed National Policy on Plastic Waste Management. Yet, the Polymer Institute of Nigeria (PIN), has described the ban as a “lazy man’s approach” to the climate emergency.