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Explaining Lagos’ campaign against single-use plastics in layman’s terms

During the just-concluded Yuletide season, one of the common features of the many photos and videos shared on social media by Nigerians was the sight of littered plastic bags and bottles on the floors of various enjoyment spots.

Plastic pollution
Volunteers with Greenpeace Philippines clean up a heavily polluted beach in Manila. Photo credit: DW.com

While there’d definitely be cleaners at these places to collect the wastes at the end of the day, the sight just shows the lackadaisical attitude of Nigerians towards the environment. And perhaps, the city of Lagos, being the most populous state in the country, is the most affected by this attitude.

Not many people know that open burning of plastic waste, consumption of plastic-contaminated seafood and creation of harmful microplastics can badly affect human health. But the purpose of this piece is not to use big biochemical terms in explaining how materials that are non-biodegradable can really affect us.

The goal here is to explain the key information being passed by the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) who, sometime last week, intensified its campaign against the use of plastics among its staff, as a follow-up of a campaign in February 2020, when the use of plastic bags and bottles were banned within its office premises.

In its recent move, the agency decried the increasing rate of single-use plastics, pet bottles, polystyrene and other non-biodegradable wastes including “polly” and nylon bags in different parts of the state. Here are three major takeaways from the advocacy, explained in terms that can easily be grasped.

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Plastic is harmful to the environment and to human health

The biochemistry of plastics will probably bore you, but the long and short of the matter is that the little container you recently drank or ate from and threw away from the car window into the canal, could come back to haunt you and the rest of us in future.

The indiscriminate disposal of plastics on the streets actually affects more than the aesthetics of the environment. The waste often ends up in waterways (e.g the lagoon), where the materials used in making the plastic product slowly breaks down and the fishes in the water get to ingest them. Then humans who eventually eat these fishes become the most affected in the long run.

The knowledge of this would spur everyone to be mindful of how they use and dispose plastic materials as well as other wastes that behave in a similar way.

You can get paid for proper disposal of plastics

Instead of throwing your used plastics away for nothing, you can actually get some monetary returns by handing them over to appropriate authorities for reuse.

At a recent event, a Lagos bigwig said, “The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources has a Plastic Waste Management Policy in place, we also have a recycling bank for plastic wastes within its premises where people can exchange their plastic wastes for money.

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“So we are not just advocating for a cleaner environment through our policy on plastic waste management, but we have also put a reward system in place to encourage willful compliance.”

Imagine paying N200 for a pet drink but having the opportunity to get some change in return if you could “dispose” of the bottle at a designated area. You get satisfaction from what you consume and you also get some money back for the waste bottle.

So the Lagos campaign is asking residents to cut down on the use of plastics, and going a step further to encourage them with appealing measures, to the end that the rate of some avoidable loss of lives caused by polluted environments can be reduced.

There is an impending total ban on the use of plastics in Lagos

At this point, it is quite important that we don’t get too comfortable with using plastics because, soon and very soon, there could be a ban placed on the material across Lagos. It probably sounded impossible, but it might interest you to know that all members of staff of the aforementioned Lagos agency are no longer using plastics especially in office premises.

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There has been an official ban on single-use plastics among staff, and the idea is that, if successfully implemented among the agency staff, the advocacy would be introduced for emulation by other ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs of the state, and eventually the entire state

“This pilot scheme  would serve as a blueprint and guide towards government policy thrust on a total ban on single-use plastic and further help in securing the environment and leave a better legacy for future generations,” a statement read.

The world is already aware of the damage that the  production, distribution and litter of plastics can cause, hence in countries like Canada, Norway and even Rwanda, residents are expected to go for shopping along with their reusable bags, and are made to pay if they demand for an extra, just to discourage the influx of plastics into the environment.

And since the whole world is obviously in the fight to reduce the impacts of single-use plastic products, Nigeria cannot be left out. Eventually, the war against the pollution will be fully taken to the streets. So, brace up now by opting for reusable alternatives!

By Ben Ugbana

A graduate student of environmental management at the University of Lagos, Ugbana is a Lagos-based media professional and environment enthusiast

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