PLASTIC POLLUTION IN NIGERIA – WHO IS TO BLAME?

Saying ‘I didn’t do it’ or like Shaggy when he sang ‘It wasn’t me’, is much easier than accepting responsibility for wrong done. Playing the blame game seems an easy way out because it shifts the burden to another party but oneself, whereas in the plastic pollution problem we all have a part to play.

The manufacturers’ claim that they listen to the pulse of the market demands and produce accordingly, thereby shifting the blame for plastic pollution to the consumers. The consumers shuffle between blaming the manufacturers for producing plastic and blaming the government for not regulating plastic production. The government then shifts the burden back to the manufacturers and the cycle goes on and on. Who then is to blame? The gods? WE ALL ARE. In this fight plastic pollution in Nigeria, we are all to blame and we all have a role to play. How?

Manufacturers

The relevance of the manufacturing sector in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized as they contribute to the growth and development of our economy. Not only do they provide jobs and employment to reduce the poverty level, they also contribute to the nations GDP and help push us closer to our goal of diversification.

Manufacturing companies evolve over time and constantly seek for alternatives to help with preservation of their products, preferably tilting towards cheaper options to reduce cost of production and increase the profit margin. The durability and cheapness of single-use plastic makes it a favourite option of many manufacturing companies. Also its lightweight properties makes it attractive to the consumers and easy to carry, a feature that is very appealing to our ‘fast-paced’ generation. These are some of the reasons why we see a consistent increase in the manufacture of single-use plastic packaging.

What can manufacturers do? Be concerned about the earth, be aware of the damage that is being caused by these single-use plastic and hold themselves accountable to higher standards. It is what you produce that the consumers will order. Concerns may be raised about consumers switching loyalty to other brands which are valid concerns, however a way to deal with that is the big players coming together and taking a stand. Imagine Coca-Cola and Pepsi deciding to no longer produce fizzy drinks in plastic bottles, after a while the consumers will be forced to adjust. After all plastic bottles where not always a thing, twenty years ago we still had Coca-Cola and Pepsi drinks sold in glass bottles.

People resist change initially but eventually adjust when a stand is taken. Who knew that Nigerians living in Lagos could queue for bus tickets until BRT buses were introduced by the Fashola government. First they fight it, then they adjust.

Consumers

We underestimate the power that lies in the hands of the consumer to determine what manufacturers do or do not produce. Consumers are the heartbeat of the market, where a product has no consumer market, that business can be considered dead on arrival.

Imagine if we cared enough to take a stand against plastic pollution? Imagine if we rejected products in single-use plastic packaging for only one week, the loss this would cause the manufacturing arm and how quickly they would adjust their products to suit the taste-buds of the consumers. It is said that the voice of the people is the voice of God, we have a voice, what if we used it?

Some other things consumers can do beyond boycotting products in plastic packaging is to; use paper-bags or carry around reusable shopping bags, avoid plastic straws, intentionally seek out ways to substitute the use of plastic and to join green initiatives in order to amplify their voice and message against plastic pollution.

Government

The government in Nigeria has a lot of work to do when it comes to fighting plastic pollution in our country. We must take a cue from our fellow African brothers and sisters that have made huge leaps in this regard by either a partial ban, a total ban, or imposition of economic taxes to regulate the use and production of plastics.

The legislative arm of government is charged with enacting laws to address areas that pose a challenge to us. Several governments around the world have taken steps to combat plastic pollution in their country:

  • Rwanda: The country that is unofficially the poster-child for conversations in this line because they are one of the first nations in the world to successfully enforce a ban of plastic bags. It has even been reported that the country that has taken the fight a step further by calling for a complete ban of all single-use plastics, being the first country in East-Africa to do that. According to an article by allafrica.com1, the 2019 law gave a deadline of three months for retailers to clear their shelves and find alternatives, and two years for industrial users and producers.
  • Kenya: Considered by many as the country with one of the strictest policies surrounding plastic bag ban as one could pay up to $40,000 dollars fine or face as much as 4years imprisonment if found manufacturing, selling or importing a plastic carrier bag.
  • Morocco: One of the countries with the highest plastic consumption rate in the world has drastically reduced their plastic footprint since the inception of Zero Mika Operation. Zero Mika Operation as the name implies (Mika is plastic in Arabic), was set up to eliminate the production, sale, import and export of plastic bags2. One good thing that Morocco did before implementing Zero Mika Operation was to set up a $21,000,000 fund to support the retailers and manufacturers who would be hard hit by this policy. Nigeria can take a cue from this by also preparing a support system for those who would be hardest by the policy and giving sufficient notice to aid ease of transition. What would be considered sufficient notice is relative and is another subject of discussion for another day.

What has the Nigerian government done so far?

The Plastic Bags (Prohibition) Bill 2018 was proposed by the National Assembly to prohibit the production, importation, sale and use of plastic bags for commercial and household packaging in Nigeria. The bill has passed through several stages but is not very popular amongst Nigerians as many are totally unaware of its existence. Reports have it that the National Assembly and the Federal Ministry of Environment are said to be putting finishing touches to this bill. We urge the Nigerian government to expedite the process of passing the bill into law. The government through the support and involvement of the National Orientation Agency as well as the media, should focus also on spreading the message so that Nigerians are aware and start to make plans for alternative eco-friendly options, both for households and for businesses.

Are there other areas we have not yet covered? Please let us know in the comments section below.

  1. https://allafrica.com/stories/201910230064.html
  2. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/circular-economy/zro-mika-or-zero-plastic/article9921896.ece

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