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Menace of plastic waste in Nigeria

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By Usman Oladimeji

Improper waste disposal affects Nigeria's recycling sector’s prospect.

Nigeria ranks ninth worldwide in plastic pollution, producing around 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste each year. Shockingly, over 88 percent of this waste is not recycled, leading to a significant amount of plastic ending up in various water sources such as rivers, lakes, drains, lagoons, and the ocean. Femi Idowu-Adegoke, President of the Lagos Recyclers Association, pointed out that despite being valued at $2 billion, Nigeria’s recycling sector has not reached its full potential due to the prevalent issue of improper waste disposal. The United Nations has noted a rising pattern in plastic waste in Nigeria, attributing it to the growing use of plastic products by the country’s residents.

According to the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the usage of plastics in Nigeria has seen a significant increase of 116.26% over a span of 15 years, rising from 578,000 tonnes in 2007 to 1.25 million tons. Jean Bakole, the UNIDO Country Representative and Regional Director for West Africa, pointed out that Nigeria, being the most populous nation with the highest GDP in Africa, is facing a growing issue with plastic waste. Over the years, he observed that the plastic waste mismanagement had been causing harm to the ecosystem and polluting the marine environment. This pollution endangers biodiversity and is adversely affecting the country’s blue economy.

Excessive use of single-use plastics adds to plastic pollution.

Mismanagement of plastics and improper waste disposal practices contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, according to him. Nigeria, with its sizable population, is a major consumer of plastic products, thus adding to the global plastic pollution crisis. As part of efforts to combat the inappropriate plastic waste disposal practice within the country, Lagos state, the highest contributor to the plastic waste epidemic in Nigeria, has taken a proactive action. The Lagos State government recently imposed a ban on the use and distribution of Styrofoam (Take-away containers) and other single-use plastics, which took immediate effect.

Tokunbo Wahab, the Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, Lagos state, said the move was implemented considering the negative impact of single-use plastics, particularly non-biodegradable Styrofoam, on the environment. He highlighted the continuous clogging of drainage channels in the state due to the indiscriminate distribution and usage of Styrofoam, despite frequent cleaning efforts requiring significant resources. Melody Enyinaya, the Project Officer for Waste Management at Environmental Rights Action-Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), explained in an interview that the excessive use of single-use plastics in our everyday routines is a major factor in the rising issue of plastic pollution.

Lack of resources contributes to poor waste management.

Disposable items are frequently used once before being thrown away, contributing to the ongoing problem of plastic pollution in the environment. She observed that a lack of proper infrastructure and resources contributes to the problem of poor waste management, resulting in littering, unauthorized dumping, and the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment instead of its proper disposal. In addition is the limited regulatory framework in place to control and diminish plastic pollution. She elaborated that the rising production of plastics is putting a strain on waste management systems and worsening pollution levels.

Also, industry stakeholders have shown little interest in enforcing stricter regulations on plastic production and usage. Nigeria has not fully embraced the waste to wealth initiative, sticking to a linear economy. Meanwhile, the Zero Waste Model ERA/FoEN is focused on addressing such issues of plastics waste. The zero-waste approach views waste as a valuable resource and rejects the concept of landfills in favour of establishing Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) to repurpose all waste materials.

Related Article: Nigeria tightens its plastic waste management

Enyinaya emphasized that it is vital for companies to actively work towards decreasing their plastic usage in order to minimize the negative effects of plastic waste on the environment. This effort will require companies to create packaging that is both reusable and refillable, as well as incorporate compostable materials as alternatives. She said companies need to take responsibility in enlightening consumers on the negative effects of plastic waste on the environment and encouraging the adoption of sustainable consumption practices. This may include spreading awareness about reducing plastic waste and providing rewards for environmentally-friendly actions.

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