The poor handling of single-use plastics across the country has led to continued environmental degradation. CHIKA OKEKE writes on the need for federal government to urgently tackle the problem.
The increased pollution caused by plastic waste in Nigeria have resulted to blocked drainages especially at the satellite towns where indiscriminate dumping of refuse is prominent.
This further translated to outbreak of communicable diseases even as some of the chemicals used in plastic production could cause dermatitis upon contact with human skin.
Due to the use of chemical additives during plastic production, plastics have potentially harmful effects that could prove to be carcinogenic or promote endocrine disruption.
According to scientists, the chemical structure of most plastics makes them resistant to many natural processes of degradation and as a result they are slow to degrade.
This has posed further threat to soil fertility as the accumulation of plastics have partially affected abundant harvest.
It is estimated that 13 million tonnes of plastics find their way into the ocean annually, amounting to approximately 165 million tonnes of plastics in the world’s oceans as at 2012.
In 1950, the world’s population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tons of plastic just as a global population of more than seven billion people produced over 300 million tons of plastic in 2016.
Experts revealed that in the UK alone, more than five million tonnes of plastics are consumed each year, of which only an estimated one-quarter is recycled, while the remaining ones are deposited at the garbage sites.
As this large amount of plastic waste reside in the environment, studies highlighted that the bodies of 90 per cent of seabirds contain plastic debris.
Some researchers suggested that by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans by weight.
Added to this is that 83 per cent of tap water samples around the world in 2017 contained plastic pollutants.
Plastic pollution not only affects humans but also wildlife and wildlife habitat, just as it afflicts land, waterways and oceans.
In some areas across the country, there have been significant efforts to reduce the prominence of plastic pollution, through promoting plastic recycling, though the intervention is minimal.
To this end, experts that spoke with Leadership suggested the need for federal government to build recycling plant and phase-out single use plastics.
The national coordinator of the Centre for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ), Comrade Sheriff Mulade, enjoined the ministry of environment and Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to build a recycling plant that would boost federal government’s agenda of massive job creation and gurantee environmental sustainability in the country.
Mulade emphasised that the recycling plant when cited in Abuja would provide jobs for the residents and control the production and use of plastics in FCT.
He reminded Nigerians on the need to tackle environmental challenges such as climate change, global warming, human activities destroying the ecosystem, natural disasters that led to resource deficiency affecting every aspect of human lives.
Mulade maintained that it would take a maximum of 500 years for used plastics to decompose even as he challenged governments, industries, communities and individuals to collaborate and explore sustainable alternatives to urgently reduce the production and uncontrolled use of single plastic.
Lending his voice, the national coordinator of Climate and Sustainable Development Network (CSDevNet), Mr Atayi Babs, pleaded with federal government to introduce plastic bag levy as done in several countries including the United Kingdom, with a view to achieving behavioural change towards the use of plastic bags.
He informed that the levy would further reduce environmental pollution associated with the dumping of used plastics.
Babs stated that countries like South Africa raised funds through plastic bag levies, which he said was invested in recycling and other programmes targeted at behavioural changes as well as in creating empowerment opportunities for the teaming young population.
The expert was hopeful that Nigeria could emulate the concept by providing incentives such as tax breaks for companies to encourage recycling.
This he believed would also transform their production processes towards the production of biodegradable alternatives.
He pleaded with the presidency through the federal ministry of environment to orchestrate steps aimed at regulating the manufacture, use and disposal of single-use plastics in Nigeria.
Babs promised that the network would collaborate with the national assembly committees on environment, habitat and climate change and other relevant non-state actors in the aggregated efforts at crafting an institutional framework to tackle the plastic menace in the country.
While suggesting that federal government should ban single-use of plastics in the country, he sought for strategies and tactics to achieve plastic pollution free in Nigeria.
Babs tasked federal government on the need to set in motion the process of banning single-use plastic in Nigeria.
Irrespective of its many valuable uses, the expert regretted that Nigeria has become over-reliant on single-use or disposable plastic irrespective of its severe environmental consequences.
The expert hinted that CSDevNet recognised that beating plastic pollution was a huge challenge especially with the perverse culture of current disposable economy.
He asserted that 50 per cent of plastics in circulation were disposable or single-use type, adding that global population buy one million plastic bottles every minute and use up to 5 trillion plastic bags annually.
Babs estimated that 99 per cent of the entire seabirds must have ingested plastics by 2050 due to dumping of plastic bottles, bags and cups after a single use.
He emphasised that plastic waste was currently threatening soil fertility adding that there would be more plastics than fish in the oceans by 2050 according to Ocean Conservancy.
The coordinator pointed out that plastics were discovered in over 60 per cent of all seabirds and sea turtles’ species that mistook plastic for food, stressing that Nigeria must beat plastics for human and species survival.
He was optimistic that federal government has a major role to play in eradicating plastic pollution and addressing the current scourge of plastic waste on urban and rural landscapes across Nigeria.
According to him, “In several African countries like 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.”
He maintained that outright ban on single-use plastics without viable alternatives like biodegradables which are often perceived as more expensive and less durable could negatively affect some sections of the society and small and medium enterprises (SME).
In her contribution, the vice-president of Global Earth Day at Earth Day Network, Valeria Merino, stated that plastic pollution was now an ever-present challenge as seen floating on rivers, oceans and lagoons thereby littering the landscapes and affecting the health and future of billions of children and youth.
She noted that the entire population have contributed to the problem unknowingly and must work hard to reduce and ultimately end plastic pollution.
Speaking on this year’s edition of World Earth day, the minister of state for environment, Ibrahim Usman Jibril, revealed the possibility of banning plastic bags even as it sought legislation to encourage households and community recycling of plastic bottles.
He added that plastic pollution was poisoning the oceans, land, marine life and human health.
The minister stated that the ministry in collaboration with critical stakeholders has developed a national strategy for the phase-out of non- biodegradable plastics and presently developing a national policy on plastic waste management.
Jibril also confirmed that the ministry was implementing a National Plastic Waste Recycling programme targeted at establishing plastic waste recycling plants across the country in partnership with state governments.
The minister added that eight plants have been completed and handed over to state governments while 18 others are at various stages of completion.
He hinted that federal government is also collaborating with states to establish plastic waste recycling plants under the community based waste management programme of the ministry.
According to him, “Two plants have been completed in Ilorin, kwara state; one in Lokoja, kogi state while others are on-going in Karu, Nasarawa state; Bola Jari in Gombe state and Leda Jari in Kano State.”
While acknowledging waste recycling ventures like Recycle Points, Chanja Datti Recycling, Wecyclers for their contributions in ending plastic pollution, he urged Nigerians to take urgent action in ridding the earth of plastic pollution.
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