A key theme at this year’s United Nations Environment Assembly in Kenya is plastic pollution. It will be returning to a theme from 2018 World Environment Day.
The 2018 World Environment Day provided much-needed impetus for some countries to launch or appraise their plastic pollution initiatives. An example is India, which committed itself to proscribing and eliminating all single-use plastics in all Indian states by 2022.
Unfortunately, Nigeria hasn’t done much in this regard. Compared to other developing-countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania, its commitments to combating plastic pollution are far below average.
Lagos, Nigeria’s megacity of nearly 16 million people, produces between 13,000 and 15,000 tonnes of waste per-day, including 2,250 tonnes of plastic, according to a local recycling business.
Nigeria’s lawmakers considered a bill in 2019 to prohibit the use of plastic bags. The bill is still in limbo. It is yet to undergo further reading and has not been enacted into law. Consequently, plastic bags are being indiscriminately used in Nigeria.
Emmanuel Akindele, a senior lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, is a part of a research group which has published the first empirical finding of freshwater microplastics in Nigeria. The research used snails from the Osun River in southwest Nigeria as biological indicators of plastic pollution. Snails in the river had consumed polyethylene plastic bags, which were common along riverbanks.
The group also found plastic polymers such as polyester, polypropylene, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, styrene-ethylene butylene styrene, and chlorinated polyethylene in the Osun and Ogun Rivers. The plastic polymers recorded in the study are traceable to different sources such as textiles, biscuit wrappers, automotive tyre cords, bottle caps, and drinking straws. They also saw larger items in the rivers, such as tyres, plastic bags and plastic bottles.
Studies indicate that such plastics could affect the life history, survival, growth and development of insect larvae into adults. The studies of plastic pollution in Nigeria, particularly freshwater and marine environments, have recorded plastics in fish also.
When animals ingest plastics, it blocks the gut and windpipe and reduces their physiological fitness. Aquatic animals can also become entangled in plastics, resulting in malnutrition and death.
Plastics degrade the aesthetic value of Nigerian landscapes and aquatic systems. This compromises cultural ecosystem services such as ecotourism.
In one case, plastic bottles were found at a natural site where an ecologically important rare insect was found.
Plastics can affect the water-holding capacity of drains, river channels and reservoirs. This leads to flooding of adjacent lands and loss of biological diversity and livelihoods.
Water sachets and bottles are widely used in Nigeria due to a lack of drinkable water in many homes. The government needs to educate the public about the dangers of discarding water sachets and bottles in the environment. And it must ensure access to clean water.
Citizens and leaders have the responsibility of bequeathing an environment that future Nigerians can be proud of. Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and other countries have taken steps to protect their environments from more plastic pollution. Nigeria can no longer afford to wait.