To satisfy certain physical, social, biological, chemical and cultural needs, humans have always generated unwanted materials. In populated countries like Nigeria about 24 million tons of wastes are generated annually, with a higher percentage in solid waste.
In recent times plastics have been seen as one form of solid waste produced on a daily basis, all over the world. Statistics from the United Nations World Environment Day Report in 2018, reveals that plastic waste constitutes about 10% of all wastes generated, with 5 trillion plastic bags used yearly and I million plastic bottles bought every minute globally.
It is estimated that more than 8.3 billion tones of plastics has been produced since the early 1950’s with about 6% ending up in either landfills or the natural environment, thus leading to environmental degradation, global warming and threat on human health.
This can be likened to the present state of Nigeria where the aforementioned (plastic bags and bottle) dot every nook and cranny of the nation, causing clogged drainages, flooding during rainfall, choking of water bodies and spread of ailments like malaria, typhoid, cholera, etc . No doubt the prediction by Ellen MacArthur that by 2050, major oceans will have more plastic than fish if the present “throw-away” trend continues, foretells the awaiting danger that lies ahead. The good news is these waste products can be turned into fruitful resource for multiple development purposes if processed.
Countries like Germany, USA, Europe and more 30 others have in a bid to beat plastic pollution devised several means to transform waste to wealth. In Kenya such used plastics are recycled into fencing posts, which have created more than 500 job opportunities and generated more than $150,00 in yearly revenues.
Likewise in South Africa, they are recycled into school bags for the less privileged. China has already fast-forwarded itself in the aforementioned direction with 300 waste-to-energy plants in place, whereas Germany through its deposit return scheme pays 25.cent to plastic users, for each bottle returned for recycling. Even Columbia a developing country, transforms used plastics into bricks for building of houses. These and many more are proofs that solid wastes are treasures in disguise.
However, while others are resolute to turn waste to wealth geared towards achieving proper waste management, Nigeria seems to be crawling in the process as the business potentials of recycling are still underutilized. Although Alhaji Ibrahim Jibril, Minister of state for Environment, revealed that a national policy on plastic waste management (to regulate use and disposal) is been put into place, as well as the establishment of plastic waste recycling plants at both federal and state levels, the progress made in this regard remains slow as only a few equipped recycling organizations (mostly private) still stands.
It is true that most of Nigeria’s deficiencies like unemployment and unstable power supply can be managed through innovative utilization of plastic waste products generated, but however, poor attitude and lack of interest by the citizenry to participate in the achievement of the said goal, constitutes a major problem.
As stated by Engr. Afolasade Nubi, coordinator for environmental management, university of Lagos, “waste management is a collective effort. The goals and desire must be shared by the society. Although an arm may take the lead while others follow, the task of moving waste management forward in Nigeria requires that the citizens and government share huge responsibilities”.
No doubt the need for greater participation in the waste-to-wealth concept is imperative, which can mainly be achieved through a total change of perspective. It is necessary we understand the value of the waste we throw away carelessly and see recycling from the business (profit making) and problem solving angle.
Obviously, waste recycling cannot meet all economic demands or curb every environmental problem but can through its endless possibilities, render value to our economic system, as well as reduce the unfriendly effects it has on the earth, thus the implementation of certain strategies becomes imperative. To achieve zero waste, the sensitization of the citizenry is therefore vital to change their perspective, as well as the use of incentives by recycling companies to promote and encourage full participation.
Government should be committed and also engage in the creation of entrepreneurial opportunities such as free training for interested and passionate individuals in waste management, as a means of integrating the younger generation, and also support already existing waste management initiative. With all hands on deck, waste to wealth opportunities can be harnessed in Nigeria and should be pursued more aggressively.