It is a special pleasure to celebrate the World Environment Day 2018, here in Nigeria, even as we join the rest of the World on this special day. In one of its most inspired moments, the United Nations decided to set aside June 5 annually, for reflection on the environmental state of the earth; this place where we live, where our forebears had lived, and where we intend that our descendants will live.
The last few decades have shown that on account of damage to the environment, there are no guarantees that we can hand over a liveable place to generations after us. That reality unfolds daily, as we observe the consequences of climate change, and the environmental abuses that cause it.
This year, we are invited to reflect on what to do with plastic pollution, an environmental epidemic, created daily, relentlessly, by consumption habits that favour the one-off use of plastics; plastic bags, plastic bottles, disposable cups, sweet wrappers, and toys, most of which we are told, will take between 500 to 1,000 years to degrade.
Current researches show that plastics that have not been burnt or recycled, could be in excess of 4.5 billion tons. Much of that has ended up in the ocean, becoming almost impossible to retrieve. Worse still, salt and sunlight cause plastics to break into smaller pieces, micro-plastics which end up being eaten by fish and other marine creatures, and this may even find their way into our meals.
The cost to fisheries, tourism and biodiversity is significant.
On our part as the Federal Government of Nigeria, we have tried to remain ahead of the curve in planning, policy and reform. The Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with critical stakeholders, have developed a national strategy for the phasing out of non-bio gradable plastics. The ministry is also developing a national plastic waste recycling programme, involving the establishment of plastic waste recycling plants across the country in partnership with State Governments. A total of eight plants have already been completed and handed over to the States while 18 others are at various stages of completion.
In addition, the Federal Government is also collaborating with State Governments to establish plastic waste recycling plants, under the community-based waste management programme in the ministry. Two plants have been completed in Ilorin, Kwara State, one in Lokoja, Kogi State, while work on another is ongoing in Karu Local Government Area of Nasarawa State. In addition, two privately run programmes are Bola Jari (means waste to wealth) in Gombe State and Leda Jari (means converting nylon bags to wealth) in Kano State. These initiatives are encouraged and supported by government.
There are, of course, questions about the limited options for cheap packaging of food and drinks, especially where consumers are relatively poor. Micro marketing methods of fast moving consumer goods, such as drinking water in sachets aka “pure water”, and the retailing of detergents, sugar and even milk in sachets, have proved to be an effective means of selling these food and beverages in affordable portions to millions of consumers. Sale of items in cellophane bags may be easier to deal with. Rwanda, Kenya, Bangladesh amongst others, have banned the use of cellophane bags, with considerable success.
It is my view that for controlling the proliferation of plastic sachets, we must go back to the major producers of fast moving goods, to put in place recycling programs that could effectively ensure that while we seek environmentally friendly options for packaging, we are keeping the environment as free of plastics as possible.
Coca-Cola has committed to collecting and recycling the equivalent of all the drink containers it shifts each year, including 110 billion plastic bottles. Consumer-goods giants such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble, have also begun to use more recycled plastics. We expect that these consumer giants will make and fulfil these same pledges here in Nigeria and also partner with governments, including States and Local Governments, to ensure that we maintain the critical balance between economic growth and a safe and liveable environment.
Nigeria is in a good place to lead Africa and indeed the world in beating plastic pollution, there is no need to reinvent the wheel, there are a good number of effective initiatives already, which we are considering as we develop policies.
As our environmental expert, Mrs Olakitan Oluwagbuyi said, aside from the responsibilities of governments, there are also corporate and individual responsibilities. We can beat the plastics pollution, but we certainly will achieve our objectives faster, if we work together.