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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Rethinking waste management: Modern solutions for Nigeria

It has become a tradition for state governments in Nigeria to give directives to open blocked drainages in preparation for the rainy season. While commending such efforts to steer a course and raise the alarm to avoid impeding danger, this approach to waste management can be described as unsustainable and outdated in the 21st century.

Plastic waste pollution

In modern times, there is a continued increase in waste generation from a corresponding rise in population, and such an approach will not ensure efficiency and effectiveness in managing waste and maintaining a clean and healthy environment. Unarguably, poor waste management threatens human health through inhalation of toxic emissions, damages to the environment, lives and properties via flooding and possible fire outbreaks, unsightliness and a violation of the universal human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

With the surging global population, waste generation is on the increase. This means that more global environmental problems emanating from waste are imminent. It is, therefore, imperative to adopt the globally recognised 5Rs of waste management: Rejecting, Reducing, Reusing, Repurposing, and Recycling. The first 3 Rs are complete responsibilities of waste generators. Waste generators include persons, institutions, organisations, businesses, companies and industries that produce any type of waste. Achieving efficiency at this stage means that about 60% of the waste management has been attained, ensuring reduced waste generation.

The advocacy at this level is to avoid waste generation, seek alternatives, limit waste generation and embrace reuse. The onus also lies on the waste generators to pursue and follow established protocols in their localities for efficient disposal. Repurposing and recycling require technicality and some level of professionalism. As a result, and in addition to its capital-intensive nature, the last two Rs of waste management are for waste management agencies, governments, private institutions and capable individuals.

Waste-to-wealth is the recent trend in the waste management industry. It covers the scope of repurposing and recycling wastes. This is efficient in environmental protection, improving health, combating climate change, advancing development, improving livelihood, promoting quality education and ensuring gender equality, amongst others. Governments at all levels can partner with the private sector and international agencies to establish an effective waste management system.

To effectively achieve this, waste separation is very essential. Wastes can be sorted based on degradability into biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes. The non-biodegradable wastes can further be separated into polyethene bags, plastics (PET bottles) and metals. This will aid onward processing. The biodegradable wastes, which majorly include food wastes from homes and marketplaces, can be incorporated into the production of clean energy.

Following the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy and the abundance of these wastes in our marketplaces, it will strategically position states to energy efficiency and sufficiency in meeting their energy requirements for electricity and household energy uses. Beyond energy fulfilment, it also provides value-added products depending on the processing pathway, such as animal feeds, fertilisers, industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals, etc.

On the other hand, non-biodegradable wastes can be converted, repurposed and recycled into other products. Plastics wastes can be recycled into a whole range of other products such as bags, footwear, drink bottles and food trays, polyester fabric for clothing, wheeled bins and food caddies, refuse sacks and carrier bags, composters and wormeries, wheel arch liners and bumpers on cars, damp proof membranes, reusable crates and pallets, reusable crates and pallets, flowerpots, seed trays, watering cans and water butts etc. Other non-plastic wastes, such as metals, also have a range of repurposed and recycled products.

Furthermore, companies that make such products which eventually become wastes should key into this plan as their environmental stewardship. Local governments should also establish policies to monitor and ensure compliance. Researchers, experts and professionals should engage in more innovative ways for productive recycling and waste management. This will promote a paradigm shift to a circular economy and resource conservation, improve environmental resilience, drive innovation through research and development, enhance economic growth and generate employment opportunities.

This is in addition to pollution reduction, energy conservation, and limiting greenhouse gas emissions, which are crucial to combating climate change. It will prevent resultant anthropogenic consequences such as flooding, water pollution, contamination of agricultural lands, and the attendant effects on aquatic lives and biodiversity.

The cost of environmental remediation outweighs the cost of prevention and effective management. It is the collective responsibility of all. While local governments should lay the foundation through a well-defined system with purposeful management, citizens should also contribute their quota to waste reduction and follow the guidelines. Dumpsites and landfills, which are the most common waste management systems in this part of the world, have gone out of date.

The world has gone beyond wastes as problematic, to wastes as opportunity. Let us follow this path of environmental uprightness and global relevance in waste management. A clean, healthy and sustainable environment starts with you. Do your part. Waste management starts with waste generation. This is therefore a call to avoid generating waste as much as possible. Always consider and put into perspective if your activity will lead to waste generation.

By Kelechukwu K. Ibe and Somto Igboamaeze

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