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Tackling Plastic Pollution in Nigeria: Challenges, Dangers, and Solutions

Plastic pollution has become an escalating crisis worldwide, and Nigeria is no exception. Nigeria is estimated to generate about 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste annually and plastic accounts for 15% of the total waste generated in Lagos State. The situation is likely to worsen as Nigeria’s population grows, from more than as estimated 220 million people now to an expected 401 million by the end of 2050, according to the World Population Review. The production of plastic is not slowing down. For instance, Dangote Refinery, the largest petrochemical refinery in Africa, will not just refine fuel but also produce plastic products.

Nigeria, like many developing nations, grapples with the pervasive presence of plastic waste in its cities, waterways, and rural areas. From plastic bags and bottles to packaging materials, discarded plastics choke drainage systems, litter streets, and contaminate natural habitats. Lagos, Nigeria’s sprawling metropolis, stands as a stark example, where plastic pollution is a ubiquitous sight, clogging water bodies and contributing to flooding during the rainy season.

The environmental and health hazards of plastic pollution in Nigeria are manifold. Plastic waste contaminates soil and water sources, posing risks to agricultural productivity and human health. In rural areas, plastic pollution disrupts farming activities, as plastic debris impedes cultivation and contaminates farmland. Moreover, plastic waste in water bodies threatens aquatic life, as marine animals ingest or become entangled in plastic debris, leading to injury and death. These are just a few of the dangers of plastics.

Furthermore, the burning of plastic waste exacerbates air pollution, releasing toxic fumes and contributing to respiratory illnesses among communities living near dumpsites. In urban areas, informal waste disposal practices, such as burning plastic waste or dumping it in open spaces, not only pollute the environment but also perpetuate social inequalities, as marginalized communities bear the brunt of environmental degradation and health risks associated with plastic pollution.

The debate regarding where the primary responsibility lies for addressing plastic pollution is an ongoing one. Some argue that the government should bear the responsibility of creating and enforcing policies and regulations. Conversely, others argue that residents should take proactive roles as environmental citizens. However, what about the manufacturers? They frequently evade accountability when the plastic they produce becomes waste in the environment. Who will go after them?

First, addressing plastic pollution in Nigeria requires a multi-faceted approach that involves government intervention, public awareness campaigns, and innovative waste management strategies. Part of this is the formation of a united front among policymakers, producers, manufacturers, multinational companies, and other stakeholders. This collaborative effort should begin with assigning a monetary value to plastic at each stage of its life cycle, encompassing sorting, collection, and recycling. It is imperative not to overlook disposal practices, monitoring, enforcement, and cost management. Producers, manufacturers, and multinational companies should take proactive measures to reduce plastic waste as part of their production processes. Regulators must hold them accountable for eliminating plastic waste from the environment. This concept has already been successfully implemented in some developed countries, such as Germany, where it has led to notable improvements in the reuse and recycling economy.

In addition, effective legislation banning single-use plastics and promoting sustainable alternatives is crucial in curbing plastic pollution. The recent move by the Lagos state government banning foam take-away containers is a step in the right direction, but as a country, Nigeria can draw inspiration from countries like Rwanda, which implemented a nationwide ban on plastic bags, leading to a significant reduction in plastic waste. However, enacting laws alone is insufficient; strict enforcement mechanisms must be put in place to ensure compliance and deter illicit plastic production and disposal practices.

Furthermore, raising awareness about the environmental consequences of plastic pollution is vital in fostering behavioural change among the populace. Public education campaigns targeting schools, communities, and businesses can promote responsible waste disposal practices, encourage recycling, and advocate for the use of eco-friendly alternatives to plastics. Engaging youth and grassroots organizations in environmental conservation initiatives can mobilize communities to take collective action against plastic pollution.

Also, investment in robust waste management infrastructure is essential for effectively managing plastic waste in Nigeria. Establishing recycling facilities, composting plants, and waste-to-energy projects can provide sustainable solutions for plastic waste management while generating employment opportunities and promoting economic growth. We have a lot of recycling companies in Nigeria doing this but the scale is still very small to cater to what we generate. Government must consider a robust investment in this sector. Additionally, incentivizing waste segregation at source and promoting the informal sector’s involvement in waste collection and recycling can enhance the efficiency of waste management systems.

Innovation and Technology is a big deal too. Harnessing innovation and technology can revolutionize Nigeria’s approach to plastic pollution management. Initiatives such as plastic-to-fuel conversion technologies, biodegradable packaging materials, and community-based recycling schemes hold promise in mitigating plastic waste and promoting a circular economy. Collaboration with research institutions, private sector partners, and international organizations can facilitate the adoption of innovative solutions tailored to Nigeria’s unique socio-economic context.

Finally, plastic pollution poses a grave threat to Nigeria’s environment, economy, and public health. However, concerted efforts at the governmental, societal, and individual levels can mitigate the dangers of plastic pollution and pave the way for a cleaner, healthier future. By implementing legislative measures, raising public awareness, investing in waste management infrastructure, and fostering innovation, Nigeria can overcome the challenges posed by plastic pollution and emerge as a beacon of environmental stewardship in the global fight against plastic waste.

 

Olamide is a communications professional currently based in London, United Kingdom. He can be reached across social media platforms @olamidefrancis and via francisolamide1@gmail.com

 

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