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Plastic Pollutants, Another Time Bomb?



Plastic pollution was the core issue discussed during the just concluded 44th World Environmental Day (WED) held June 5 globally. In this piece, ANTHONY AWUNOR writes that plastic waste may form another major health issue that the world will contend with, if not nipped in the bud.

With approximately 500 billion plastic bags used annually worldwide, plastic pollution has become one of the many challenges of human health in recent times. To control the spate, the United Nations has been at the forefront of a renewed awareness campaign on the prevalence of plastic pollution worldwide.

In this this year’s World Environmental Day (WED) celebrated on June 5, 2018, the world body chose “beat plastic pollution” as the theme; which is a way to drive the ongoing campaign into the minds of the global society,

In his message on the WED, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged all people to reject single-use plastic items, and warned that growing levels of plastic waste were becoming unmanageable.

According to Guterres, every year, more than eight million tons end up in the oceans. He therefore, urged for all to take a look at some of this plastic waste from the past year, accumulating in waterways, forests, and beaches across the globe, and some of the efforts to clean and recycle the mountains of material.

The dangers of plastic pollutants were not only emphasized on WED; the issue was equally at the centre of discussions during the 2018 Earth Day marked on April 22, 2018 with the theme “End Plastic Pollution.”

During the World Earth Day, the federal government had used the forum to advise Nigerians to take proactive measures that will end plastic pollution and protect the planet.

The Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibril who gave the advice in a statement issued in Abuja by his media aide, Esther Agbarakwe, to mark the 2018 World Earth Day.

“Nigerians are urged to use the weekend to celebrate the planet and to take action to protect it by ending plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is poisoning our oceans and land, injuring marine life, and affecting our health,” he said.

According to him, government is exploring the possibility of banning plastic bags with availability of alternatives.

However, with the trend of things globally, it seems nearly impossible to escape plastic in our everyday lives because plastic materials are found virtually in all the materials that humans use, including plastic cups, plates, buckets, shoes and spoons. In the office, plastic keyboards, plastic framed computer monitor, plastic mouse, plastic pens and even plastic tables are very common.

Back home in Nigeria, plastic usage has become a way of life. For instance, food vendors found it very easy and more comfortable to package their food items in plastic plates, and spoons while water, soft drinks and other liquids are equally sold in plastic bottled.

In virtually all the big cities like Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Enugu, Calabar, Jos Akure, Abeokuta and others, it is commonplace to find pure water sachets, plastic bottles indiscriminately disposed of by people. These materials, overtime, find its way into the drains, gutters and canals. They eventually make their way to the waterways and finally into the oceans.

Strangely, plastic pollution does not stop at local areas. Highbrow areas such Victoria Island in Lagos, Government Reservation Areas (GRAs), estates, military barracks and even the airports are not excluded from the environmental menace.

To address the issue at the airport environment, aviation stakeholders, during this year’s World Environmental Day examined the nature and extent of the pollution caused by the proliferation of plastic wastes in aviation environment.

The event organized by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport also created a forum to discuss policy options required to address this menace for the sustainability of the industry.

Speaking at the event, Managing Director of FAAN, Engr. Saleh Dunoma stated that since 1974, the focus of integrating human interactions and developments and the environment has been that of keeping the only planet earth we have, safe and healthy.

Engr. Dunoma stated that this year’s edition is being used to specifically point global attention to the challenges of plastic pollution coming from all facets of human environment.

The FAAN boss who was represented by the agency’s Director of Engineering Services, Engr. Salisu Daura pointed out, that although, airports do not produce plastic products; however, they provide avenues for installations of plastic products in form of facilities as well as selling of items packed in plastic containers. This he said could contribute to plastic waste generation into the immediate and the larger environment.

According to Dunoma, the aim of the United Nations on this year’s theme is not to pass the bulk but to reduce the statistics by proffering solutions that will be far reaching and attract commitment from all stakeholders.

“Available statistics are evidences of everyone’s contributions to this challenge. Only one sector could not have been responsible for the over 200,000 metric tonnes of plastic wastes that find their way into the water bodies every year in the country. Only one sector could not have been responsible for the ranking of Nigeria as one of the top twenty countries with the worst plastic waste management”, Dunoma said.

In his own goodwill message, Director of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Muhktar Usman stated that  it is expected  that the resultant effect of the gathering should affect aviation environment positively, starting with  everyone’s determination to take ownership  of our environment and to actively  protect us from plastic and other pollutants.

Capt Usman who was also represented by a senior NCAA official, Mrs. Oyetu Adegbesan noted that implementing environmental best practices and policies at the airports is therefore essential to achieve an environmentally sustainable aviation sector as a whole.

According to him, the use of plastic products has increased massively in aviation environment over the years which has caused massive pollution, adding that the cost of removing these pollutions has proved to be prohibitive.

Commending FAAN for putting the event together, Usman said “the primary objective of NCAA has been to create an enabling environment which will encourage and ensure dynamic growth of the aviation industry that is sustainable through safe, secure and efficient services”.

He equally advised that that all stakeholders as well as passengers passing through the airport to assist in putting an end to plastic waste with simple acts like using reusable water bottle.

In his own views, the Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Engr. Akin Olateru, said that plastic pollution remained risky to air operations as it constitutes Foreign Object Debris (FOD) that is highly toxic.

He said: “Some effects of plastic pollution include foreign object debris (FODs). FOD is any article or substance alien to an aircraft or system which could potentially cause damage. At an airport, FOD includes those objects found in an inappropriate location that as a result of being at that location can damage equipment.”

According to him, most common FOD items were aircraft parts, tyre fragment, mechanics tools, nails, luggage parts, broken pavement and stones, including plastic waste which is common at the nation’s airports due to the volume of traffic and poor sanitation culture.

He said: “FOD poses a safety hazard. It can be ingested in an aircraft engine which can result in damage to the aircraft or cause an accident.

“On July 25, 2000 an AF 4590 departing CDG ran over a piece of titanium debris from a continental DC 10 shredding a tyre and slamming rubber debris into the plane’s fuel tank. The subsequent leak and fire caused the Concorde crash killing 100 passengers, 9 crew members and 4 people on the ground.”

To address this problem, according to Olateru, individuals and companies using the airports around the world must imbibe safety precautions and deliberate waste management practices aimed at tackling the menace.

“Airport should develop a mechanism to check and remove FOD and the likes from runway, taxiway, apron, aircraft parking areas and loading ramps. A daily self-inspection should be conducted.

“A debris management program should be developed to include awareness and training, detection through manual inspections and equipment; removal using equipment and evaluation of the program through data collection to identify ways to make improvement,” Olateru said.

Also speaking, Chairman of the Nigerian Environmental Society, Eugene Itua, called on the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to live up to its regulatory onus by making sure that all airport users imbibe the culture of sanitation in line with global best practices recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Among other recommendations, the stakeholders charged FAAN and NCAA to ensure that concessionaires at the airports adopt current techniques be used in other climes for packaging, storing, recycling and bagging items with non-plastic materials such as bamboo utensils, paper plates and wrappers, among other things.

Also at the event, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who was represented by Ronald Kayanja, Director of UNIC, Lagos, emphasised the need for all to keep the global environment plastic free.


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