Industry players have estimated Nigeria’s recycling industry to be worth at least $2bn. Despite this potential economic opportunity, Lagos State has continued to battle the menace of plastic pollution, writes EDIDIONG IKPOTO
Lagos State, the beating heart of Africa’s most populous country, has endured a difficult battle with plastic pollution over the years. Although the state government has made several attempts to address this challenge, the menace has persisted.
Being a megacity with approximately 22 million inhabitants, Lagos State is said to generate 870,000 tonnes of plastic waste annually, and there have been several campaigns by the state government, particularly through the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, to combat the menace of plastic pollution and convert it to an economically viable opportunity. But this environmental threat has simply refused to go away. Many parts of the country’s economic hub are littered with rubbish. It is a common sight in the metropolis to see drains blocked with pet bottles, resulting in flooding whenever there is a heavy downpour.
From the highbrow Lagos Island to the mainland of Agege, Abule Egba, Bariga, Fadeyi, Ketu, Ilasa, Mushin, Isolo, Oshodi, among others, plastic pollution continues to pose a serious hazard to residents.
In an exclusive chat with The PUNCH, an environmental expert and President of the Lagos Recyclers Association, Femi Idowu-Adegoke, said the menace of plastic pollution that has perennially plagued Lagos State has been largely down to lack of willingness on the part of residents to adopt recommended waste disposal means that have been prescribed by the relevant authorities.
According to him, Nigeria’s recycling industry has been estimated to be worth a staggering $2bn, but has struggled to live up to this lofty estimation due to the menace of indiscriminate disposal of waste and poor orientation of Lagos residents on how to work with professionals to convert this liability to a viable economic opportunity.
He said, “The major thing that needs to be done to combat plastic pollution in our society should begin at the households and the communities. They need to begin to embrace attitudinal change. We need to understand that we should not use and dump anymore. They need to begin to see value in their waste, especially plastic.
“People need to begin to realise that there is value attached to their plastic waste, and they need to embrace attitudinal change by putting up these plastic wastes for recycling. That is if they cannot abstain totally from the use of disposable plastics. The best environmental solution is total abstinence from the use of disposable plastic in the first place.
But, because in some places we do not have pipe borne water, everybody is using bottled and sachet water. We are now buying beverages in plastic bottles. Because of that, we need to embrace recycling, and recycling starts from our attitude and behaviour.”
The Eco Viridis CEO further stated that the plastic waste commonly discarded into drainage systems have significant economic value and could be potentially recycled to manufacture other products.
He added, “The pet bottle can actually be recycled to polyester fibre. That polyester fibre is used in making clothes. We can use it to making pillow stockers. We can use it to make trainers (boots). We can turn it into clothing, which we call polyester. If we get the collection right, we can actually use it to make new bottles and new materials. There is lady in Ibadan, who recycles pure water sachets and weaves it into aso-oke.
The Emergency Flood Abatement Gang, a government apparatus under the Lagos Ministry of the Environment, had in the past expressed worry that indiscriminate disposal of plastic waste has worsened the environmental challenges faced by the state.
On its part, regulators in the state have tinkered with a few ideas and initiatives to curb the menace of plastic pollution in the state.
One of these initiatives was the we-cyclers initiative, which saw tricycles go from door to door to collect plastic waste.
People in return earn points that could be turned into gifts. The We-cyclers then take the waste to factories that transform them to small plastic balls, which could be used in producing objects like bins and buckets.
While this initiative has registered a degree of success, it was still a far cry from plugging the waste gap that was also increasing at a sprinter’s pace due to the continued rapid urbanisation of the state.
In a move that was geared towards definitely arresting this albatross, the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency in February 2022 declared that it was placing a ban on single use plastics, pet bottles, polystyrene and other non-biodegradable wastes in the state.
The agency said the increasing rate of single use plastics, pet bottles, polystyrene and other non-biodegradable wastes in different parts of the state had become alarming and that there was an urgent need for urgent steps to reverse the trend and further encourage reusable plastics or biodegradable materials, which are cost effective, eco friendly and devoid of environmental nuisances.
LASEPA said it was also worrisome that every day around 8 million pieces of plastic make their way into the ocean, with attendant widespread problems affecting the marine environment, threatening the ocean, health of marine species, food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism and contributing to climate change.
“Single-use plastics represent the epitome of a throwaway culture that ends up in landfills, oceans, waterways and causes environmental and health hazards. We collaborated with Cleaners Practitioners Association of Nigeria to advocate attitudinal change towards recycling, plastic pollution, disposal and also promote reward system through our cash for trash programme to encourage willful compliance,” said LASEPA General Manager, Dolapo Fasawe.
According to the agency, the move came following a charge by the United Nations for countries to phase out plastics by 2030.
In May 2022, LASEPA announced that it had received 200 multiple-use canned bottles from the Nigeria Bottling Company, to support its fight against plastic pollution in the state.
Receiving the canned bottles, the LASEPA boss, Fasawe said there was a need to encourage reusable materials as well as promote recycling and turning waste into wealth among Lagosians.
When our correspondent reached out to LASEPA to ascertain the status of the 2022 ban, the agency’s Chief Public Affairs Officer, Bola Ajao, said the ban had only been enforced within the confines of the environmental protection agency as a means of inspiring the larger society to jettison the practice of indiscriminate disposal of single-use plastics.
Ajao further stated that the agency had already begun a mass campaign across all local government areas and local council development areas to bring this menace to a halt.
He explained, “Within LASEPA premises and the Ministry of Environment, there is a total ban on plastics and single-use. We advocate multiple use plastics and that is what we have extended to the larger society through our ‘trash for cash.’ The governor has promised that he is going to go through the 57 local government areas (including LCDAs).
“On Saturday, we had the first phase of the initiative. It is our own way of advocating that rather than litter the roads and our drainages with the single-use plastics, they can turn it into wealth. We are working towards it. By the time we get to the 57th local government council, Lagos is going to get rid of single-use plastics.”
However, while the relevant apparatuses of government continue to organise campaigns and pose for photo shoots, the dangers plastic menace pose has continued to escalate, with warnings from global institutions of an impending doom, if nothing is done to address this problem definitively.
Last year, in a report titled “Making Lagos a Pollution Free City: Solving the threat one solution at a time,” the World Bank expressed concern that Lagos was becoming notorious for its pollution nuisance.
The report said at least 30,000 people die annually in Lagos due to pollution.
In what looked like a move to address the increasing environmental pollution caused by plastic waste, Nigerian lawmakers considered a bill in 2019 to prohibit the use of plastic bags. The bill, which has almost become another publicity stunt by the National Assembly, has yet to undergo further reading and has not been enacted into law. As a result, this menace has continued unabated.
The harm plastic pollution is causing is becoming more evident, and experts have sounded the alarm that more environmentally related disasters may be looming if nothing is done to address this challenge today, not tomorrow.