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Urgent need to address plastic pollution

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By Usman Oladimeji

Spread of plastics in major cities is a result of fast urban growth.

Nigeria is facing a dire issue with plastic pollution, as both urban and rural areas are overwhelmed by single-use plastics and other disposable. This widespread problem is not only unsightly but also damaging to the environment and causing blockages in drainage systems. It is essential for the government at all levels to quickly implement effective and practical measures to combat the indiscriminate disposal of plastics nationwide. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently ranked Nigeria as the ninth-largest producer of plastic pollution in the world, with an annual contribution of 2.5 million tonnes, of which 88% is left unrecycled.

As per the 2024 Mismanaged Waste Index released by the World Population Review, Nigeria’s plastic waste situation is alarming. The country is responsible for 4.5% of the world’s plastic usage, importing 960,000 tonnes and producing 935,800 tonnes annually. Additionally, Nigeria disposes of 27,685 tonnes of plastic waste into its water sources. Melissa Jones, the Mission Director for USAID in Nigeria, expressed concern over the impact of excessive plastic waste on the environment, marine creatures, and public health. She suggested that implementing recycling measures could decrease the need for new raw materials for plastic manufacturing, cut down the energy-intensive process of producing plastics by 90%, and lower greenhouse gas emissions by 25%.

Plastic pollution in rural regions adversely affects farmers.

The spread of plastics in cities such as Abuja, Lagos, and Port Harcourt is a result of fast urban growth and significant rural-urban migration. Sachet water bags, plastic bags, and Styrofoam food containers litter the cities, reflecting a national reliance on plastic due to its cheapness and convenience. Various companies ranging from SMEs, both local and international, in the manufacturing sector also contribute to the prevalence of plastic packaging. Improper waste disposal systems worsen the problem, with most states lacking effective structures and many citizens showing indifference, resistance, or ignorance towards sustainable waste management practices.

Numerous individuals in Nigeria dispose of their waste haphazardly, whether it be in open areas, waterways, or through burning, leading to water contamination and floods during the rainy season. The plastic pollution in rural regions adversely affects farmers and fishermen, impacting agricultural productivity. Not only does this jeopardize Nigeria’s food security, but it also diminishes the country’s tourism appeal due to the presence of plastic waste. Microplastics can disrupt marine life cycles, shorten lifespans, and lead to extinction. Farmers might also face quick soil degradation. At the same time, plastics have the potential to release toxic substances into the environment, putting water quality and ecosystem wellbeing at risk.

State govt should implement and enforce policies.

According to health professionals, the presence of these waste can result in various health concerns. The presence of microplastics in the body could also cause inflammation, genotoxic effects, oxidative stress, and cell death. It may contribute to conditions such as necrosis, cardiovascular issues, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, and autoimmune disorders. As a result, it is essential for the government to collaborate with non-governmental organizations, community figures, and businesses to address this problem effectively. It is also important for Nongovernmental environmental organizations to increase their efforts in educating the public on the importance of protecting and conserving the environment.

On the other hand, state governments should take responsibility for implementing and enforcing policies that are environmentally friendly. Universities and research centres should focus on finding creative solutions for recycling that can be utilized in industries. The government should also play a role in promoting the production of recyclables by manufacturing companies and implementing policies that limit the production of new plastics. Other states ought to follow the example set by the Lagos State Government, who made the commendable decision to prohibit the use of Styrofoam and single-use plastics at the beginning of this year.

Related Article: Microplastic in Osun river alarmingly high

Rather than relying on reactionary measures, states should focus on consistently educating, motivating, and fostering a culture of sustainable waste management. Rediscovering the use of biodegradable alternatives such as edible leaves, bottles, and tin cans is crucial. Nigeria could learn from the successful approach used by countries like Rwanda, Kenya, Denmark, Taiwan, and Germany in tackling the issue of plastic waste. These measures include a comprehensive public education initiative, a firm prohibition of single-use plastics, and the enforcement of penalties for those who do not comply. Additionally, exploring eco-friendly packaging materials, along with significant changes in waste management practices and promoting a circular economy approach, can also make a significant impact.

Related Link

UNEP: Website

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