Plastic waste is one of the biggest environmental scourges of the time.
According to U.N. Environment, globally, we produce 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, which is nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. Historically, the onus has been on the consumer to reduce, reuse and recycle but as plastic production continues to increase at an alarming rate, the focus is shifting to the plastic manufacturers to take responsibility and to take action.
As the movement gains momentum, more and more corporations and plastic producers such as Coca Cola, Unilever, Guinness to name a few, are making a pledge to reduce plastic waste. They are exploring the use of alternative materials, they are investing in the recycling of their products and they are engaging relevant stakeholders. However, this progressive activity is focused on the developed countries and is not visible in Nigeria, a country in which they operate heavily.
With our inadequate waste collection and recycling systems these plastic products end up in our environment, slowly degrading; releasing toxins into our soil and our waterways, poisoning our marine and land animals and posing a threat to human health. Rapid urbanization and a growing middle class in Nigeria means consumer markets for plastic goods are getting larger; supermarkets are replacing informal shops and markets.
SPAR, is the largest voluntary food retailer in the world and according to their website they understand that they are “in a position to make significant contributions towards the reduction of plastic waste,” and so they have implemented various initiatives internationally, including in the African countries of South Africa & Zimbabwe, where they have introduced a new brown paper carrier bag, a woven carrier bag, and a large carrier bag. They list other countries where they will implement new sustainable initiatives and considering that they are operating 10 stores in Nigeria, making them the largest chain of hypermarket stores in the country; it is disappointing to find that Nigeria was not on the list.
According to a U.N. Environment report, only 10 rivers carry more than 90% of the plastic waste in the ocean and the Niger River is one of them. This is a clear indication of the magnitude of plastic pollution in Nigeria and yet there have been little more than murmurings of a plastic bag ban and talks of a commitment to reducing plastic pollution in Nigeria but there has been no action. While we make promises and pledges, several other African countries are taking action and are on the path to eradicating singe-use plastics.
Countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Mauritania, Tunisia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Morocco and South Africa have enacted laws related to the ban on the use, manufacture and importation of single-use plastic bags. In South Africa the government has provided separate trashcans and color-coded bags for recyclables and a local company ‘Pikitup’ follows a planned route to collect the waste. The goal is also to encourage behavioural changes and eventually households will be fined for non-compliance.
In 2017, Kenya enacted the world’s toughest law on plastic pollution. The plastic ban threatens up to four years’ imprisonment or fines of $40,000 for anyone producing, selling – or even just carrying – a plastic bag. The East African country has also enforced a Waste Management Bill & Policy, which has proven successful. Rwanda has been at the forefront of the fight against plastic pollution; there has been a ban on plastic bags for the past 11yrs and the government has provided tax incentives to companies for purchasing equipment that would help recycle plastic or manufacture environmental friendly bags.
Cameroon has a ban on the importation, production and sale of non-biodegradable plastics. Enacted in 2014, the law states that smugglers, distributors and manufacturers will face up to five years’ imprisonment and more than $20,000 in fines. They have seen an impact on their drainage system where there are less blockages and reduced instances of flooding.
There is a need to intensify the campaign against plastic pollution, as it is a massive threat to environmental sustainability, public health and economic development. While we do need to improve the way we manage our plastic waste, we must also endeavor to slow the flow of plastics at its source. Government at all levels should enact policies to regulate the production of plastics and should invest in educating Nigerians on the dangers and threat to the environment and human health.