How Nigerians are drinking their way to plastic pollution and ill health

For a country rich in water resources with commercial capital like Lagos surrounded by water from the sea, is it not ironic that Nigeria still has a problem with accessibility to potable water? The extreme importance of water and its many uses was highlighted by the legendary late Nigerian singer and activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti when he released the song ‘Water no get enemy’ many years ago.

According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF, millions of Nigerians do not have access to clean water. Potable water is any water that is safe to drink or to use for food preparation, this is not readily accessible to the average Nigerian, even more so during the dry season where water levels are low.

Many have made a thriving business from the sale of seemingly potable water; in supermarkets as well as in traffic. Some states have tried to banish traffic hawking in Nigeria but have done so unsuccessfully as hawkers still go around with chants of “Buy your pure-water and minerals” or in western cities like Lagos the traffic sounds accompanying the honking of vehicles is “Pure water tutu re”meaning ”This is cold pure water”. Not only is this a source of income for the seller but also comes as a source of relief to the buyer who is banking on quenching his thirst with “minerals” (the local name for fizzy drinks) or “pure water” which is in fact not pure.

In Nigerian local parlance, ‘pure water’ is the same as sachet water. It is sold in shops, supermarkets and by the roadside. It is often bought by people who want access to safe water on a budget, but do not realize that they are not only contributing to plastic pollution but are potentially consuming micro-plastics.

The other alternative to pure water is the bottled water which is more expensive than the sachet water, very handy but dangerous to us and our environment seeing as it is made with single use plastic bags. Many companies have established their names in the Nigerian business space by producing large amounts of water in single-use plastic bottles that end up in the sea, in the drainages, in landfills and serving as a great source of plastic pollution in Nigeria.

Lack of access to safe water is a major problem in Nigeria seeing as it not only affects health directly through sicknesses such as Diarrhoea, Typhoid fever, Dysentery and other water-borne diseases, but it is also a contributing factor to plastic pollution in Nigeria

According to a 2013 statement by Dr. Paul Orhii, a former head of the Nigerian Food Drugs Administration Control NAFDAC, at least 100 million bottles of water and 60 million pieces of sachet water were consumed in Nigeria on a daily basis. Seven years down the line and with an increased population, one can only imagine how much more plastic we purchase in the form of bottled water and satchet water.

PepsiCo (makers of Aquafina water) announced that it will start rolling out its popular Aquafina water in aluminum cans in 2020. Nestle announced that in early 2020, they will launch new water dispensers using state-of-the-art technology, allowing consumers to fill their own reusable bottles. 2020 is here, will they make good their promises?

The end goal for us is that water manufacturing companies can provide water in eco-friendly packs as opposed to single use plastic. We have seen it happen with ‘just water’, an eco-friendly carton water brand owned by Hollywood celebrity Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith. The pack of Just water is made with carton whilst the cap is made with sugarcane.

We want to see more Nigerian companies thinking of ways to reduce their plastic footprints whilst they meet our water needs. Speaking of meeting our water needs, it is high time the government of our country took it upon themselves to ensure that the lack of accessibility to potable water becomes a thing of the past in line with goal 6 of the United Nations 17 sustainable development goals. The government must also ensure that structures are put in place to not only regulate the companies that produce this water but also to ensure that sanctions exist and are implemented to prevent said companies from contributing to plastic pollution in Nigeria whilst profiting from it at the same time.

As citizens we have our role to play in this fight against plastic pollution. Activism is a key element in this fight; we must constantly spread the message of how plastic is ruining the earth. The more people knowledge people have about plastic pollution, the easier it will be to have them to commit to reducing their plastic footprint. Tell a friend, tell your family and friends, but most importantly show them how.

One way to cut down on our plastic footprint is to put water dispensers in every home, office, bank, store, organization… everywhere. With water dispensers everywhere and with everyone carrying a refillable water bottle, shouldn’t that be a way to cut down on our plastic footprint until we get more permanent solutions???

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