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International Day of Zero Waste: Nigeria must emulate Rwanda in sustainable waste management

March 30 of every year is International Day of Zero Waste; a day set aside by the United Nations to promote sustainable consumption and production patterns, support the societal shift towards circularity and raise awareness about how zero-waste initiatives contribute to the advancement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

This is crucial because the waste sector contributes significantly to the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity and nature loss, and pollution.

According to the UN, humanity generates an estimated 2.24 billion tons of municipal solid waste annually, of which only 55 per cent is managed in controlled facilities. By 2050, this could rise to 3.88 billion tons per year. In the same vein, the UN estimates that around 931 million tons of food is lost or wasted and up to 14 million tons of plastic waste enters aquatic ecosystems, every year. It concludes that If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

While countries like Germany, Austria, Sweden, South Korea, Wales, and Switzerland are topping the list of countries with zero wastes, Africa is yet to be resilient in dealing with its wastes issues.

A recent report on World Bank data shows Egypt and Algeria produce more than any other country, and when it comes to plastic waste generation, making them the largest producers of plastic waste in the Africa, and they are ranked 14th and 17th, in the world respectively.

Waste management is a major challenge in Africa and remains a serious problem, devastating communities’ health, the environment and ocean that millions depend on for their livelihood.

Across Africa, Rwanda remains at the forefront of waste management, earning its capital city, Kigali, “Africa’s cleanest city”. In 2008, UN-Habitat awarded its Scroll of Honour to Kigali for its slum clearance and upgrading of urban amenities, particularly refuse collection and the provision of housing, water and sanitation. Nigeria, the Giant of Africa, must strive to overtake Rwanda on this.

According to the Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nigeria generates some 32 million tonnes of waste per year, among the highest in Africa. Of the waste generated yearly, 2.5 million tonnes is plastic waste, most of which (70 percent) ends up in landfills, sewers, beaches and water bodies.

Despite a host of policies and regulations by the Federal Government to curb the menace of poor waste management in Nigeria, very little progress had been made.

Lagos, Nigeria’s most populated city, according to the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA), has an estimated population of 24 million and generates in excess of 13,000 metric tonnes of waste daily. While the agency is doing its bit to keep the state clean with various waste management initiatives, the state is still not there yet in terms of sustainable waste management as solid wastes still litter the environment, block drainage, causing flooding and air pollution.

The situation is pretty same in other states of the federation as observed with little or no verifiable data on their solid waste generation.

What is Rwanda doing that Nigeria cannot do?

Rwanda’s efforts began with a 2008 ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags, which was subsequently followed by the outlawing of single-use plastic items, as one of the long-term strategies for becoming a green and climate-resilient nation.

The ban was aimed at minimising the dangers of plastic pollution to humans, farm animals, aquatic life and the environment.

According to a World Bank Report, Rwanda’s current strong institutional and political will, legal frameworks and citizens active in eliminating plastic pollution foster socio-economic development and environmental protection. The national motto for sustainable environmental management is: “whatever cannot be recycled or reused must not be produced”.

The country also has a host of national policies and laws concerning general pollution management: Vision 2020 (2000); Rwanda Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy (2011); Regulations of Solid Waste Recycling (2015); and the Law on Environment (48/2018 of 13/08/2018), among others. In addition, there are specific laws or policies that focus directly on plastic waste control in Rwanda. These include Law No. 57/2008 of 10/09/2008 relating to the prohibition of the manufacturing, importation, use and sale of polythene bags in Rwanda (2008).

Furthermore, as a signatory to international conventions, Rwanda has adhered to its commitments to achieve ambitious changes in the use, management and disposal of plastics in the country.

For instance, as a signatory of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the country seeks to contribute to the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement. The management of plastic pollution in Rwanda falls within a wider strategic, regulatory and policy framework, which sets the foundation for the management of waste.

For these commitments to really take root however, the backing of the local community is needed. In Rwanda, this has come in the form of “Umuganda“, a Kinyarwanda word that means “coming together in common purpose”. It’s a monthly community work (including community cleanup) reintroduced to Rwandan life in 1998 as part of the efforts to rebuild the country after the 1994 genocide. Today, it takes place on the last Saturday of every month from 08:00 and lasts for at least three hours, with every able-bodied Rwandan aged 18 to 65 taking part.

Furthermore, Rwanda has also created a dedicated community of innovators in the field of plastic waste management. These include CareMeBioplastics and Toto Safi, who are both finalists in the Afri-Plastics Challenge. Small and medium enterprises like these illustrate the growing role for the private sector within the plastic value chain, particularly in the African context where government infrastructure and services are limited, even non-existent in some places.

CareMeBioplastics is involved in the collection and recycling of plastic, using a mobile app to collect the plastics from the end-users and processing the collected plastic, and turning the plastic waste into valuable items such as school desks, and both indoor and outdoor furniture.

Toto Safi’s solution is a reusable cloth diaper service so that parents do not have to choose between convenience and pollution. Through this app, parents will be able to receive a fresh bundle of sterilised and affordable cloth diapers.

These two innovators represent the wider activity and commitment that the Rwandan landscape is facilitating. They also demonstrate the importance of public-private partnership in plastic waste management.

For Nigeria to be the Giant of africa and cannot lead as example in sustainable living is a slap on its face. The sooner the leaders realised this, the better for the image of the country

Just like Rwanda, all Nigeria needs is the right laws and policies of production and packaging, as well as proper waste disposal for sustainable living.

While the country has made efforts to in the past to create policies on waste disposal, the impact has not really been felt because it lacks the will to enforce.

Nigeria must also encourage private individuals who are into recycling activities as they contribute their quota to the just cause; by giving them grants, access to interest-free loans, tax incentives, etc., to encourage more youths to take up the field of job.

Nigeria must be sincere in its fight against climate change by taking the right steps and not paying lip service to the struggle to redeem the planet as the world is watching and taking note.

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