- Joan Bishio
On January 21 2023, Nigeria’s commercial hub, Lagos, announced the ban on the use of styrofoam across the state. Styrofoam containers are very common among food sellers across Nigeria because they are lightweight, very accessible and cheap. This light food container is made from styrene, a petroleum-based product made from polymerization. Just like other single-use plastics, the average lifespan of a styrofoam container is 15 minutes and because of the lightweight nature of the container, they cannot be reused. The ban is a laudable effort to help reduce plastic pollution in the state and improve environmental sustainability. This is a significant step forward but it raises the question, what comes next?
The Plastic Pollution Problem Of Nigeria
Plastic pollution has been a constant contributor to Nigeria’s environmental woes. Indiscriminate disposal, poor waste management and unregulated use of plastics continue to fuel the plastic pollution crisis in Nigeria. The effects of plastic in Nigeria has negative environmental and health implications. From water pollution and the threat to the aquatic ecosystem to flooding issues and its impact on Nigerian livelihoods to land pollution and its effect on development, the negative impact of plastic wastes surpasses all
Despite the growing plastic pollution problem, Nigeria’s laws and regulations on plastic waste management are lax and poorly implemented. Existing laws, such as the National Environmental (Sanitation and Waste Management) Regulations are often ignored and enforcement is weak across the country.
The reasons for the poor implementation of environmental laws in Nigeria are complex and multi-faceted. Some factors include:
1. Lack of Political Will: In 2019, Nigeria’s House of Representatives passed a bill calling for the ban of single use plastics with a proposed fine of 50,000 or more for defaulting businesses but the bill never saw the light of day as the Nigerian senate failed to adopt it. Nigerian political leaders often prioritize other issues and there is little incentive or public pressure to implement these environmental laws.
2. Inadequate Funding: Environmental agencies often lack the resources necessary to enforce laws and regulations effectively. According to a 2019 report by the World Bank, it is estimated that achieving sustainable waste management in Lagos State, would require an investment of around $2.5 billion over a 10-year period (about $250 million annually). Although the entire 2023 budgeted Lagos State recurrent and capital expenditure was $724 million, the budgeted 2023 capital expenditure for the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) and the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), in addition to financial subventions for several other waste and environmental programs, totaled about $10.7 million. Another report by the African Development Bank estimated that addressing solid waste management in Nigeria’s cities would require an investment of around $10 billion over a 20-year period. With the rising population, it appears that the country still has a long way to go in financing infrastructures for sustainable waste management.
3. Corruption: Corruption can undermine the efforts of enforcement agencies, with officials turning a blind eye to violations in exchange for bribes.
4. Public Apathy and Lack of Awareness: Many Nigerians cannot relate the impact of plastic pollution to their daily activities or the importance of proper waste management as they wait on the government to tackle their waste management issues.
The Lagos State government has made the first step towards addressing plastic pollution by enforcing the ban but the solution is not complete without proper measures put in place to cushion the effects caused by the ban. When the Rwandan government enforced the single use plastic ban in the country, the government put a strategy in place that included a year long awareness campaign, a two-year phase out period for single-use plastic manufacturers, and promotion of sustainable alternatives.
The Lagos State Government should ensure that there is a well thought-out circular economy strategy as a transition model. This will help business owners/consumers to properly navigate the ban and provide sustainable alternatives. There should be a strong enforcement of this ban, proper awareness campaigns for Lagos residents, development and encouraged use of sustainable alternatives.
Lagos made a great call, and it’s time for the rest of the country to follow suit. The days of plastic pollution should be far behind us. Moreover, plastics are not the problem, the way and scale at which we consume them is the problem.
Joan Bishio is Junior Associate, Media and Communications at Clean Technology Hub.