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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Sachet and PET bottles ban: Implications for environment, unemployment

Iya Semiu, as she is popularly called, sits in her makeshift shop at Jabi garage, a bustling motor park in Abuja metropolis, displaying her wares, which includes sachet of alcoholic drinks.

Alcoholic drinks in sachet
Alcoholic drinks in sachets and small volume bottles

She is oblivious of the ban on Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles and sachets in packing alcohol and other beverages by the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

The agency recently announced its readiness to enforce the ban. Because such beverages are cheap, they are popular among alcohol consumers.

Ms Kehinde Ariyo also sells these products, which she said is the most profitable business she has ever owned.

“I have sold bread, clothes, and other household goods in Karmo market, but many times, sales are low.

“My neighbor encouraged me to go into this business, and it’s been very helpful for my family.”

According to her, sales are constant, and profit margins are between N3,000 and N4,000 daily.

Various brands, called “Fenuja” in local Yoruba parlance, are priced between N50 and N100.

From Semiu to Kehinde, the story echo the integral role of alcoholic beverages in cultures for millennia.

Globally, alcohol stands as the most widely used psychoactive substance, accepted and encouraged by society.

Marketing advancements over the years have escalated its availability and consumption.

In Nigeria and other African countries, spirits packaged in sachets represent the latest trend in alcohol packaging.

The World Health Organisation links alcohol consumption by children to several risks, including drug use, poor academic performance, injuries, risky behavior, and health problems.

NAFDAC’s ban, initiated in 2018, prohibits the production of alcoholic drinks in sachets and pet bottles.

The enforcement began on Feb. 1, following a phased approach discussed by a multilateral committee.

The NAFDAC Director-General, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, clarified that NAFDAC did not renew manufacturers’ licenses in January.

According to Adeyeye, the agency took the route of eliminating the drinks in such sachets because of the negative effects on underage children.

She said because the drinks come in pocket-friendly sizes, accessible and affordable, children easily fall for the packages only to face the consequences in the future.

She said in the course of enforcing the ban, it was discovered that some manufacturers were still in production of the banned products.

“The agency strongly condemns this unacceptable situation, deeming it a blatant violation of Nigerian laws.

“NAFDAC is determined to address this matter seriously, considering potential legal actions, such as prosecution,” she told newsmen in Abuja recently.

The Minister of State for Environment, Dr Iziaq Salako, had previously said ending underage drinking and promoting responsible drinking was crucial for the country.

He said this when he hosted the team from Guinness Nigeria, led by Mr John Musunga.

He said the organisation’s decision to halt the production and sale of alcoholic drinks in sachets was impressive, saying it would help reduce underage drinking and environmental pollution, calling it a public health issue.

“One of the things that I advocated when we were doing the review of the public health law in Ogun State is for the state to ban the circulation of alcohol in sachets.

“This is because just like you have said it makes it easier for people to access, the underage and everyone else.

“Some other people with health conditions who should not be taking alcohol still do because it it’s so easy for them to access.

The minister said he would be at the forefront of the campaign to stop the production and sale of sachet alcohol products.

Apart from its implications for the health of consumers, experts say the sachets and small plastic bottles also constitute environmental threat due the indiscriminate manner the consumers of their contents get rid of them.

A researcher, Dr Idowu Kunlere, predicts that by 2025, the Nigeria’s  waste generation will constitute 25 per cent of Africa’s total.

According to him, in spite of escalating extraction to meet population needs, waste management remains a critical issue, leading to environmental and health consequences.

This unsustainable, vicious twin cycle of indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources and poor waste management holds dire consequences for the environment and human health.

However, with environmental awareness on the rise globally, there have been various policy attempts at entrenching sustainable use of natural resources, effective waste management, sustainable materials management, and a circular economy say, I.A Ajani and Idowu Kunlere in a study.

The study entitled: Implementation of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EFR) Policy in Nigeria: Towards Sustainable Business Practice was published in Nigerian Journal of Environment and Health.

One such attempt is the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), also called the Buy-Back Scheme (BBS), which makes manufacturers responsible for the management of their post-consumer products.

In 2014, the Federal Government, through the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), adopted and released guidelines for the implementation of the EPR policy in Nigeria.

However, it has not been fully implemented due to paucity of health data in the country which is vital to promoting environmental health.

Dr Edwin Isotu-Edeh, the National Consultant, Public Health and Environment, WHO Nigeria, said digitising environmental health data was of public health importance.

He said that an estimated 12.6 million deaths annually were attributed to unhealthy environment with over 100 deaths and injuries linked to environmental risk factors.

He said that every Nigerian deserved to live in a healthy and clean environment, saying “this is key to achieving universal health coverage’’.

As NAFDAC intensifies its efforts in implementing the ban as a means of promoting public health and environment, some stakeholders in the manufacture and distribution of these products are kicking.

Trade unions, including the Food, Beverage and Tobacco Senior Staff Association (FOBTOB), and National Union of Food Beverages and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE), recently took their protested against the ban to NAFDAC’s Lagos office.

The TUC Vice-Chairman, Idogen Emmanuel, said the ban will adversely affects struggling families and add to economic challenges caused by subsidy removal and inflation.

The FOBTOB and NUFBTE in a joint statement further claimed that the ban has the potential to throw 500,000 workers out of job in an already saturated labour market.

The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) has also criticised the position of the NAFDAC on the ban.

The organised labour further took the protest to the Lagos House of Assembly, Ikeja.

Comrade Anthony Oyagha, Branch Secretary, FOBTOB, said the ban was harsh on those operating in the sector and denied accusations that the products were unhealthy.

“Our products are well refined for consumption and we beg the Lagos State House of Assembly to reach out to the relevant authorities to unlock our factory.

“If we leave this ground, we have nowhere to go as our factories are shutdown,” Oyagha stated.

Chairman, Trade Union Congress, Lagos Chapter, Mr  Emmanuel Edoghe, reiterated the need for NAFDAC to rescind its decision on the ban of the premium alcoholic drink and sachets.

He urged the agency to consider the huge investment made by the companies and the existing purchasing power of the people.

“The Lagos parliament should join its voice with Manufacturers Association of Nigeria to consider the wellbeing of the workers especially with the mantra of Renewed Hope of the current President, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu”, he said.

Experts argue that the plastic bottles and sachets their pose a danger to environment and health.

They say, however, the NAFDCA ban should be implemented with a human face in a manner that will engender win-win situation for all stakeholders.

By Tosin Kolade, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

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