Heaps of Plastic Wastes in Residential Area in Lagos Photo: The Guardian

Menace of plastic wastes, economic sustainability and consumer wellbeing

*Plastic pollution is a global threat throughout its lifecycle, with health and environmental implications, including cancers, endocrine disruption, diabetes, obesity, developmental issues, reproductive dysfunction and respiratory diseases

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

The overbearing socio-economic, environmental and health implications of the comparatively poor plastic waste management in Nigeria can no longer be ignored.

Several stakeholders have suggested that such obvious impacts plastic pollution need to be addressed urgently, particularly in view of the ultimate wellbeing of consumers in the country’s economy.

A recent report indicated that the country generates about aggregate 32 million tonnes of waste per year, of which 2.5 million tonnes of these constitute plastic wastes, constituting eyesores and unsightly heaps of refuse all over the villages, towns, parks and open spaces in major urban centres.

Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, Honourable Minister for Environment

ConsumerConnect reports that about 70 percent of these wastes, including used plastics, according to an estimate, end up in landfills, sewers, beaches and water bodies, with accompanying offensive odour, especially whenever it rains in any part of the country.

Nigeria’s disposal, recycling and waste management system as of now, stakeholder observed, is very inefficient as regards the efforts at dealing with both plastic and non-plastic wastes.

However, in an earlier attempt to improve plastic waste controlling via recycling and other methods, the country’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) October 2020 validated a new policy for effective plastic waste management, according to report.

The FEC in the last year also approved the new strategy to improve plastic waste management, about three months after the earlier approval of a law on solid waste management in Africa’s largest economy, according to Afrik21.

The Nigerian Federal Ministry of Environment, which introduced this national policy, stated that the governmental strategy is aimed at improving plastic waste management in the most populous country on the African continent.

Subsequently, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, Honourable Minister for Environment, also disclosed that the government has built plastic recycling plants throughout the country.

The Minister noted that these facilities would serve as a pilot project after the new government regulations become effective.

Further still, it is said the new legislation should encourage the development of a circular economy around plastic waste.

Dr. Abubakar explained that “in the past, the standard procedure was to produce, use and dispose of it. We can’t continue to do that, knowing that plastics are very suitable for recycling or reuse.

“Plastics can be recycled to produce blocks, new plastics or pallets for lock production.”

The plastic waste law is also expected to bolster up some financial institutions that already support several recycling projects in the country, according to report.

As part of efforts at effectively managing plastic wastes management in the economy, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) September 2020 was said to have offered US$39 million loan to Engee PET Manufacturing Company Nigeria for the construction of a continuous polymerisation PET resin plant in Ogun State, in South-West region of Nigeria.

ConsumerConnect gathered that the facility, which is expected to be fully operational in two years, would derive over 20 percent of its raw material from local plastic waste.

It is believed that this effort could also help to properly structure the recycling industry and enhance economic and environmental sustainability in the country.

In a similar endeavour in 2020, as yet another approach to minimising the adverse impacts of indiscriminate disposal of plastic wastes in Nigeria, a civil society organisation (CSO), under the aegis of Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Nigeria, at a workshop in Lagos urged the Federal Government to ban single-use plastics with effect from year 2021, as against the projected 2028 date contained in the National Policy on Plastic Waste Management.

The forum specifically observed and affirmed that plastic pollution is a global menace throughout its lifecycle, with health and environmental implications, including cancers, endocrine disruption, diabetes, obesity, developmental issues, reproductive dysfunction, and respiratory diseases among others.

The three-day workshop tagged: “Civil Society’s Perspective to Addressing Plastic Pollution in Nigeria”, and co-hosted by Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development (SRADev Nigeria) and Pan African Vision for the Environment (PAVE), was attended by Centre for Earth Works (CFEW), Green Knowledge Foundation (GKF), Environmental Rights Action (ERA), among others.

The civil group suggested the single-use plastic ban should start with styofoam, microbeads and carrier bags, as they have no economic value in terms of recycling potential, agency report stated.

According to them, the National Policy on Plastic Waste Management rather should be adopted immediately in order to allow the practical application of relevant and appropriate regulations to address plastic waste management in the country.

Dr. Leslie Adogame, Executive Director of SRADev Nigeria, the co-host of the workshop, in his presentation on “Plastic in Nigeria: Implications on Health and Environment”, disclosed that Nigeria is among the 10 top countries producing the largest amount of mismanaged plastic wastes worldwide.

Adogame also noted that a dozen of other African countries have banned single use of plastics.

Mr. Oladipo J.O, Deputy Director in the Federal Ministry of Environment, who congratulated the civil society group its efforts, stressed that plastic management is very important to the Nigerian economy.

In his goodwill message on the occasion, Mr. Tunji Bello, Honourable Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, in Lagos State, represented Mr. Adeoye Babajide, a Director in the Ministry, said plastic is a burning issue of public discourse not only in the country but across the world.

The Commissioner noted that the Lagos State Government is working to address the issue as it affects free flow of water in drainages in the state leading to overwhelming flooding during raining season.

The current crisis cannot be allowed to linger, as “we are working on a policy that will ensure proper management of plastic,” said Bello.

In a communiqué at the end of the programme, GAIA suggested, among others, the need for what it described as “referenceable disaggregated data” on the quantity of plastic products being manufactured and imported, which consumers use in Nigeria.

The group noted: “Nigeria is ranked 6th highest country producing unmanaged plastics. Several countries including developing ones are making effort to change the narrative through banning, production and importation of single-use plastics.

“Nigeria has a National Policy on Plastic Waste Management that is yet to be adopted by the Federal Executive Council. The process has been too slow.”

It further stated: “However, there exist gaps which GAIA Nigeria is looking into. The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy of NESREA covers the total life cycle of products. However, it remains a voluntary policy framework.”

The group then, advocated an urgent need for the civil society organisations to fill the identified gaps in the proposed National Policy on plastic waste management before its adoption by the FEC; and standard operating procedure/guidelines for the plastic recycling/management sector; effectiveness of the management of plastics.

As far as the waste management industry is concerned in the country, the group says it certainly requires a framework of action for collaborative partnerships among all stakeholders.

“The field experience indicates a gap in the current private sector recycling processes especially collection, compared to the magnitude of the menace of plastics pollution.

“GAIA Nigeria identified various areas of intervention through which the action plan, including policy and regulation, advocacy/engagement, environmental justice and financial resources is being developed,” it added.

In all of these, it is agreed that the government at all levels should to take bold steps to ban single-use plastics and replace them with alternatives though sustained enlightenment programmes to enlighten the populace on the health implications of plastic wastes.

As stakeholders in both public and private sectors of the economy have appropriately advocated, and it is possible: Nigerian consumers should not continue to die even when alive by ingesting microplastics.

Corporate entities, especially the apparent the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs) manufacturing companies said to be the ‘big polluters’, must have a paradigm shift away from the use of plastics for most consumer products.

Nigeria requires an inclusive approach to plastic waste management, which should entail the collaboration of different stakeholders right from the grassroots level, including community, religious, political and youth leaders.

As Nigeria joins the rest of the global community to mark the World Consumer Rights Day 2021 Monday, March 15, it is, therefore, hoped that the government, corporate organisations, and civil society groups would redouble their efforts at sensitising consumers and the entire population on the current distressing health implications of the increasing plastic wastes in the country.

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