By: David Arome
The streets and roadside are gradually turning into a refuse hub with various types of waste. It is so glaring that among other waste indiscriminately disposed of, plastic waste tops the lead. The stance emanating from the waste is enough to make one throw up. The multiplier effects of plastic waste pollution in the environment are already staring at us so hard. The waste plastic and other refuse dump sites are now habitations for rats and mosquitoes, exposing the locals to public health threats. This practice over time led to blockage of drainages, waterways thereby resulting in flooding.
Plastic pollution has recently gained a new global dimension, with Nigeria taking its turn in the emerging environmental public health threat. It is a widespread trend and a more frequent cause for concern. According to the World Population Review of 2021, Nigeria is rated as the 7th largest country in the world for generating plastic waste, amounting to about 5.96 million tons annually, with about 88 percent of the waste generated not being recycled but rather ending up in landfills and waterways. Plastic pollution does not only negatively impact the environment but also the health and safety of human lives.
Residual Impacts of Indiscriminate Disposal of Plastic and Other Waste
The usual excitement that comes when it rains, especially with the cold natural climate that accompanied it, turned out to be an unforgettable ordeal for Mr. John. John is one of the residents of the Maraba suburb community. He is a petty trader who sells food stuff in the main market in Maraba. On a Saturday morning, though the cloud cover was heavy and the wind was blowing, he quickly rushed to the market to continue his sale.
That same day, it rained heavily, causing flooding and leaving plastic waste littered in the environment. Shortly after the rain stopped, John received a phone call from a neighbor informing him that his house had been flooded. He rushed to the house to confirm the information he had received from his neighbor. On reaching the house, he could not hold back his tears as the flood had destroyed his house and properties. There are many others with similar experiences.
An online survey through a cloud-based platform (Google Form) conducted by David Arome to assess knowledge, perceptions, challenges, and mitigating factors of environmental plastic pollution. The responses of the participants are shown in the chart below:
These responses are clear indications that environmental plastic pollution requires a holistic approach to combat the threat as soon as possible.
Nigerians on the streets are also concerned about the environmental threat posed by plastic pollution. Martha, one of the street Nigerians interviewed, also bared her mind on the devastating effects of plastic pollution, such as flooding and littering of the environment. They also blamed the frequent burning of plastic waste on a lack of waste bins and a poor waste management system. They reiterated that the aftermath effect leads to environmental pollution.
Environmental experts across the board have added their voices to the call for scaled-up action to get rid of plastic pollution from the environment. Mr. Chinedu, an environmental expert, emphasized the need for concerted efforts to stem environmental plastic pollution. He stressed the need to intensify awareness-building efforts in communities and embrace proper disposal of plastic waste in the environment. He also urged the public to adopt an eco-friendly approach by not burning plastic waste, rather dispose of it in the plastic trash bins. He calls for policy adjustments that will incorporate a plastic pollution-free environment, strengthen existing structures, and engage the private sector in plastic waste management across the state.
Contributory Factors that Trigger Environmental Plastic Pollution
The practice of indiscriminate disposal of plastic waste: The trend toward indiscriminate disposal of plastic waste is alarming and worrisome. It has become a usual practice among many Nigerians to throw off plastic waste along the street without having a second thought about what happens to the plastic waste next. In the long run, these indiscriminate plastic wastes accumulate to block the flow of waterways, resulting in flooding, stagnant pools of water that provide a habitat for insects and rodents to thrive and spread diseases, and plastic waste pollution in the environment, among other things.
Poor plastic waste management system: the waste management system is far from getting it right, probably due to a shortage of personnel and equipment to mop up the waste collection from communities and strategic waste dumping sites. Furthermore, the lack of waste segregation, particularly of plastic from solid waste, poses a significant challenge, as collected waste is all mixed and disposed of together.
Scanty recycling companies: The number of recycling companies is insufficient to match the massive plastic waste turnout. The plastic waste generation in Nigeria annually is estimated at2.5 million tons.
Possible Solution Toward Achieving Plastic Free Environment
Continued education and awareness creation on proper disposal of plastic waste, provision of waste bins, timely collection of the waste by concerned waste management authority are key in the drive in achieving a plastic waste free environment.
The culture of cleaning your space and proper disposal of plastic waste remain a first line remedy to a clean, safe and healthy environment. Plastic free environment is a call of duty to everyone in support of stemming plastic pollution.
The waste management system needs a complete overhaul to meet the current reality in the quest for a clean, safe, and healthy environment. Also, the private sector can partner with the government in the drive for efficient waste management systems at all levels to create a viable working system. The government on its part can provide a policy framework for the efficient control of plastic waste pollution and smooth running of the waste management system. The plastic waste system can turn out to be a new gold mine for Nigeria in terms of creating job opportunities for the teeming populace.
A clean, safe, and healthy environment is a possibility and everyone’s business, not just that of the government alone. A clean environment is a safe environment.
This report was supported by the Africa Data Hub Community Journalism Fellowship.