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Nigeria faces urgent plastic pollution crisis, calls for immediate action

By George George Idowu

Plastic pollution in Nigeria has reached critical levels, with urban and rural areas overwhelmed by single-use plastics and other plastic waste.

This pollution degrades the environment, clogs drainage systems, and presents a significant public health hazard. The federal government and local and state authorities are urged to implement comprehensive policies to address this escalating issue.

According to recent data from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Nigeria is the ninth-largest contributor to plastic pollution globally, generating 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, with 88% not recycled.

The World Population Review’s Mismanaged Waste Index 2024 rates Nigeria’s plastic waste status as “very high,” noting that the country consumes 4.5% of the world’s plastics.

USAID Mission Director Melissa Jones emphasised excess plastic waste’s severe environmental and health impacts, including threats to ecosystems and marine life.

Jones suggested that enhancing recycling efforts could significantly reduce the need for new plastic production, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and create job opportunities within the recycling value chain.

The prevalence of plastic waste is particularly severe in rapidly urbanizing cities such as Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Abuja, where improper waste disposal practices are common.

This includes the widespread use of plastic packaging by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and multinational companies. In rural areas, plastic contamination harms agricultural activities and threatens food security.

Improper waste disposal methods, including dumping in open spaces and burning, exacerbate the problem, leading to flooding, water contamination, and air pollution. Health experts warn that plastic waste can cause serious health issues, including endocrine disruption, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.

The Nigerian government is encouraged to collaborate with NGOs, community leaders, and corporate stakeholders to combat plastic pollution. NGOs should focus on public education and behaviour change initiatives, while state governments should enforce environmentally friendly policies and invest in alternative packaging solutions.

Lagos State and Oyo State have already taken steps by banning single-use plastics. However, more states need to follow suit and provide sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics. Policies should also encourage the production of recyclable plastics and reduce the frequency of new plastic manufacturing.

Global examples, such as Rwanda’s strict ban on single-use plastics and Kenya’s similar measures, demonstrate the effectiveness of stringent regulations combined with public awareness campaigns and alternative packaging investments. Nigeria can draw lessons from these countries to develop and enforce its own policies to mitigate plastic pollution.

With plastic waste taking between 20 to 500 years to decompose, the urgency for action can not be overstated. Failure to address this issue could have dire consequences for Nigeria’s environment, public health, and economy.


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