In the twilight of the 8th Session of the National Assembly, the House of Representatives passed a bill banning the use and sale of plastic bags in Nigeria. The bill which, according to the legislators, still requires a little working on, by a conference committee of both houses before it can be sent to the president to be signed into law, seeks to punish anyone who uses plastic bags instead of an alternative, with a three year ban or a fine of N500, 000.
The lawmakers are keying in to international thinking on the use of plastics, especially the environmental problems they are causing. Plastics, by their very nature are handy and disposable. But a lot of energy is put into manufacturing these materials whose molecules are very large, often resembling long chains made up of a seemingly endless series of interconnected links, using non-renewable resources from hydrocarbons.
This makes recycling them extremely difficult. They are also not bio-degradable no matter how long they stay buried under the earth or on the sea beds and if burnt, they release incredibly dangerous chemicals into the air. These chemicals also have the capacity of sipping into underground water that is the source of water consumed by people and animals. The real problem of plastics is not just in the use but also in the disposal methods which is often done in a manner that is offensive to the environment. These materials block drainages and cause flooding among other hazards. Some developing countries like Bangladesh have had to deal with flooding caused by blocked drainages thanks to plastic materials.
Malaysia recently had to return wastes to Australia. Also worrisome is the fact that most disposed plastic bags/materials end up in bodies of water were they pose another level of threat to animals and plants that make these bodies of water their habitat. And because water is usually not stagnant, these toxic materials are transported as far as into oceans and seas, in tonnes, annually. Neglecting all these facts about plastic bags and its likes, however, means putting the world and the future of the human race at risk.
That is why we believe that an outright ban in Nigeria where, to make matters worse, there are no recycling companies or any use for the bags besides just carrying items, indeed, is a step in theright direction and in tune with the movement throughout the world to eliminate anything that poses a threat to the environment. Long before now, African countries like Tanzania, Zambia, Kenya and Rwanda banned the use of plastic bags and the governments of these countries, apart from ensuring that the ban is strictly adhered to, is also involved in the campaign that other African countries, follow suit. In the same vein, in March this year, the United Nations Environment Assembly passed a resolution on addressing single-use plastic products pollution, where it pointed out that just a mere nine per cent of the nine billion tonnes of plastics produced are recycled even in developed countries.
The same body predicted that by the year 2050, around 12 billion metric tonnes of plastic would be scattered in landfills and the environment. With a ban on the unhealthy material in Nigeria, it is certain that a huge percentage of the predictions above will be eliminated. What is left now is the work that must be put in to ensure that there is no room for violation once the bill is assented to. Government needs to also begin to, as a matter of urgency, seek an alternative to plastics. Most countries are settling for paper bags instead. In India, for example, newspapers and magazines are ripped apart and stapled into bags which are used to pack items for customers in stores. Elsewhere also, the use of paper cups and plates is becoming common place. The main advantage of plastics is that paper made from pulp is bio-degradable. It can easily dissolve in water or burnt with little or no negative effect to the environment. It cannot be argued that paper bags are a better alternative to plastic bags and investing in ways to boost their production in Nigeria would help to fill the gap that the absence of plastic bags would leave in the society just as it will also create jobs too.
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