Plastic pollution is a pervasive problem in Nigeria that endangers humans, wildlife and causes recurrent floods. Therefore, various stakeholders must take concrete steps to curb this problem and the attendant danger that it poses to climate security.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa and is often alluded by the public to be the ‘Giant of Africa’. But what’s also growing large in Nigeria is the use of plastic and the subsequent waste from it.  People consume more than 60 million sachet water bags daily in Nigeria, which are not often adequately disposed of. Therefore, it comes to no surprise that frequent use of plastic bags and the wild popularity of sachet water – due to unequal access to hygienic drinking water – account for the 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste generated in Nigeria every year. The concern for plastic waste is highly relevant when considered within the context of its impact on climate change. Hence, if the world is to achieve climate security, the onus rests on each country to tackle the plastic pollution epidemic.

How Does Plastic Pollution Affect Humans?

Plastic pollution affects the air quality in Nigeria when people burn plastic as a waste management strategy. As a result, these burnt plastics release harmful toxins, which cause environmental and health concerns. 

On another note, the fright over floods is a constant worry for Nigerians, particularly in Lagos, because of poor plastic waste management practices. Drains often end up blocked, leading to widespread floods that disrupt lives and destroy properties.

Additionally, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), microplastics often find their way into tap water and other sorts of drinks ingested by humans. The acute usage of chemical materials in producing these plastic containers, which can cause cancer, poses a threat to human health in Nigeria.

 Problems Plastic Pollution Creates for Wildlife

The aquatic wildlife in Nigeria is gravely affected by the plague of plastic pollution. People often dump plastic materials in rivers, and this act contaminates the water bodies. Consequently, the threat against marine biodiversity in the country is heightened because marine animals often mistakenly ingest these plastics, leading to deaths.  

According to the IUCN, the disposal of plastic waste in rivers and oceans threatens marine biodiversity. These plastics serve as carriers for the transportation of invasive marine species into aquatic wildlife. 

On a similar note, toxic contaminants have been showcased by studies to reside on plastic debris. When this debris is ingested by marine wildlife, the entire food chain can be adversely affected by the transmission of these toxic contaminants to terrestrial wildlife that preys on marine wildlife. 

Challenges in Reducing Plastic Use in Nigeria

One of the biggest challenges to reducing plastic use in Nigeria is the popularity of sachet water and consumers’ improper disposal of the used plastic sachets and other forms of waste. In recognition of this challenge, state governments have introduced initiatives such as the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) to help tackle the volume of plastic waste across the states in the country. 

However, despite the benefits of these government initiatives, there is an urgent need to also address the challenges preceding waste disposal. In addition to consumers’ negative attitude towards waste disposal (such as the burning of plastic waste), these challenges encompass insufficient governmental will for change, shortage of necessary waste management infrastructure, and businesses’ acute usage of plastic for packaging purposes.

Solutions for Plastic Pollution

On January 27 2021, the WEF announced the Nigerian government’s decision to join Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership. This decision represents a significant step in the right direction towards eliminating plastic pollution in Nigeria. Through the partnership, leading policymakers, civil society organisations, and business leaders will unite towards the formulation of a national action plan to prevent subsequent plastic pollution. However, despite the envisioned benefit of this partnership, the country needs additional actions to be taken urgently.

Concerning the wild popularity of sachet water and its consequent contribution to the plastic pollution level in the country, a recommendation was made by a study to introduce a deposit-refund system. Through this approach, the aim would be to discourage improper disposal of water sachets in the country. In  Germany,  this system has been implemented, which helped curb plastic pollution. According to Thomas Fischer, head of circular economy at NGO Environmental Action Germany (DUH), “Before 2003, some 3 billion disposable beverage containers were dumped in the environment every year.” However, Germany presently maintains a return rate above 98%.

Targeted programmes could be encouraged to tackle plastic pollution, particularly those linked to oceans. Specifically, the recommendation calls for programmes aimed at the improvement of people’s waste disposal behaviour. Stakeholders in the plastic recycling sectors have emphasised the importance of positive consumer behaviour towards waste disposal if the problem of plastic pollution is to be resolved in the country. 

Another policy that stakeholders could explore within the context of Nigeria includes plastic bans (particularly single-use ones). This single-use ban has become particularly popular amongst EU member states, in line with a commitment to halt the use of disposable plastics contributing to almost 70% of Europe’s marine litter. Although Nigeria’s House of Representatives passed a plastic ban bill in 2019, it is yet to be passed into law. Therefore, there is a greater need for political will regarding the bill. The ban of single-use plastic by the government could also be a crucial step for the introduction of a multiuse packaging for sachet water.

The use of plastic waste as green technology for paving roads is another innovative solution that would be highly beneficial in Nigeria due to the country’s relatively dreadful roadways. It is essential to point out that plastic roads are not sub-standard to asphalt ones and can be cheaper and long-lasting. Therefore, directing plastic waste to resolve another critical problem in the country would prove to be highly efficient.

What Do We as a Society Need to Do to Help Reduce Our Plastic Pollution?

Societal members are crucial to tackling plastic pollution in Nigeria. If everyone avoids the indiscriminate disposal of plastic waste and makes choices to reduce their plastic footprint, the end to the bane of plastic pollution would undoubtedly be in sight. 

On the other hand, when citizens are less than cooperative in curbing plastic pollution, it becomes impossible for the government, plastic recycling companies, and other stakeholders to address this pervasive problem. 

Featured image by: John Peltier/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)