Lagos has a population of 20 million people, and it is one of the ten most populous cities in the world. This makes it a natural hub for commerce, technology and innovation. But just like the ten most populous cities like Shanghai, Delhi and Mexico City, Lagos also has a problem with waste. Since all Lagosians use and throw away things without efficient waste systems, Lagos is bound to have different types of environmental problems like overflooding and bio-accumulation unless we do something about it.
It is now the rainy season. Around this time of the year, cars are driven through large amounts of water on the roads, and we all think it is a normal part of life because it’s rainy season; it rains too much. But in at least half of the main roads, drainage systems, though sometimes inadequate, are provided to abate these floods. Yet we still have a large amount of water that causes traffic, damages cars and damages roads. And why is that? Well, one of the reasons is plastic. Most consumer goods are now packaged with this product. Because Nigeria is an oil producing country and plastic is made from oil and gas, plastic is relatively cheap and can be used to package almost anything. A lot of this plastic ends up in our sewer systems which clogs the drains and litters the waterways thereby causing floods and polluting the marine ecosystem.
In Lagos, there is an inadequacy of waste management systems and therefore, a significant volume of our trash goes into the sea. Most of this waste is plastic. Not only does this waste not help in the beautifying of our city, it hurts marine life. Fishermen have started to complain that the plastic is hurting the volume of fish that they catch, and even if the fish survives eating plastic, the plastic consumed by the fish might end up poisoning people. The plastic that goes in our waterways also exposes the water to bacteria and viruses dangerous to marine life, inhibiting recreation and leisure activities with our water which means that we can’t swim in a lake or do other amusement activities with water from our natural resources.
Most of this plastic come from water and soda bottles and ‘pure water’. Pure water grants a lot of benefits. It is a cost effective way for all Lagosians to get clean water anywhere they are. But it is a menace and a big contributing factor to the plastic pollution in Lagos state. In Lagos, there is a huge delusion that water in plastics and plastic bottles are generally safer than any other types of purified water. But the truth of the matter is most of the bottled water that one buys is just filtered, glorified tap water. The only reason why bottled water is more expensive than any other kind of water is because of its packaging. 90% of a bottled water’s cost is due to the packaging. So what happens when we change this ideology and filter our own water when affordable? According to World Facts energy used to manufacture new plastic bottles can be used to power 190,000 homes. We definitely can find some other use for all that energy.
Plastic is not biodegradable which means that it can last to almost 500 years. If we have no way of getting rid of the plastic we already have and keep on making more, then this will abound until the entire Lagos state is filled with plastic waste. New Delhi is facing these problems on an even worse scale. Due to the height of their problems, they have decided to ban plastic altogether from their city. Hopefully Lagos wouldn’t have to go through that but the state is coming close. According to the Scientist Review, Nigeria is the ninth most plastic producing country in the world. It beats India, South Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom. We have to find a way to get rid of this waste.
One might wonder why we can’t just burn this plastic, like we do to other things. Burning plastic releases the chemical, dioxin that is highly toxic because it causes cancer and damages the immune system. It can also cause reproductive and developmental problems and interfere with hormones. Interfering with hormones can cause all sorts of diseases. We are better off piling up the plastic and using new ones than we are burning them.
Climate change is occurring as we speak and one of the effects of climate change is the rise in sea levels. As most of us know, Lagos consists of a mainland and a series of islands that can be harmed from the rise in sea levels. Quartz Africa claims that Lagos is slowly sinking. As a state composed of islands, Lagos is more vulnerable to climate change than any other part of the country and perhaps most of the world. Even the ‘Great Wall of Lagos’ that surrounds most of Victoria Island might actually make the situation worse for the wall’s surrounding areas because once the water bounces off the wall, it will look for a weaker spot to pass through and the force in which it will come will be even greater than the force it had to begin with. Obviously, climate change will affect us more than it will affect others and since this is the case we must do our part.
Though inadvertently, we try to save the planet more than we realize. Most of us in Lagos still reuse plastic kitchenware at home. We add water to dishwashing soap so that it doesn’t finish quickly (dishwashing soap is usually packaged in plastic containers), we use old cloths for wiping tables in the kitchen, we use old plastic containers for putting soup and all other foods that we do not want to spoil and we put them in the freezer. We reuse cooking oil and most of us still sundry our clothes instead of putting them in a dryer. But obviously, more work needs to be done. Countries have gotten so tired of the plastic pollution that they have decided to ban the production and use of plastic altogether. When people stop at the Rwandan airport, agents do not only check for guns and other weaponries, they check for plastic bags because they are banned in the country. Government officials in New Delhi, the most plastic polluted city in the world, have tried to ban plastic to stop the illegal plastic burning at garbage dumps. Understandably, they are trying to save their city, but banning plastic in their city is almost impractical since most citizens feel like they have no other alternatives and so a lot of the city’s citizens ignore the law.
My suggestion is to reduce the production of plastic first, introduce alternatives and then maybe twenty years from now ban plastic altogether. We depend almost completely on plastic for packaging and important commodities such as water. But I believe that if we become more aware of what we are doing to harm the society, the use of plastic will reduce and eventually there will be no need for production. There are alternatives.
Rwandan citizens use durable paper bags instead of plastic to package their belongings. They have been doing this for ten years now with no major economic deficit. In fact, their economy is one of the fastest growing in Africa. An organization called Avani in Indonesia has invented biodegradable plastic that can be used for shopping bags, laundry bags, e-commerce bags, raincoats and even straws (their straws are made from corn starch)! They make eco-friendly wooden cutlery and coffee cups (also made from corn starch). These are a 100% biodegradable and compost-friendly. They make this biodegradable ‘plastic’ from cassava and sugar cane fibers. Therefore, with the right guidance, it is very possible to make our own compost-friendly materials that can be used as an alternative for plastic.
We may not be able to cure the disease of plastic pollution without intervention from the Lagos State Government. A higher authority needs to start convincing supermarkets to sell reusable bags in addition to their plastic bags so that customers can be aware of what they can do to change their environment. For the purpose of enhancing the environment, receiving plastic bags from a store instead of bringing one’s own reusable bag -especially when you don’t have much to buy or you need to go to the market- is a mindset that needs to change.
But there are so many things we can do now with no cost to it. For example, we can use water filters. A water filter is unlike a dispenser in that it filters tap water into drinkable water. Rather than buying new plastic bottles and throwing the old ones away we should reuse them and fill the water bottles with water from the filter so that we can put them in the refrigerator for them to cool. Homes should begin to do this. When we Lagosians want to go out, we should carry our flasks with us instead of buying bottled water on the streets. When we want to drink soda, let us try to use the conventional glass bottles that are healthy for the environment not only because they are not plastic but because plastic can also be reused. There are some water filters that work without electricity as well (if Lagosians are concerned about NEPA).
There are now many recycling companies in Lagos. There is Wecyclers, Verde Impacto, Chestron, etc. They go from house to house to collect plastic and aluminum cans. Let us separate our recyclable items in our houses and schools and hand them to a recycling company so that the items can be reprocessed. And this should not just be water bottles but anything plastic like our slippers, for example. And for the beautifying our city, Lagosian citizens should put their trash in a dustbin rather than the gutters. Let us campaign for the government to allow these dustbins to be attached all over Lagos so that in one step, we can make this city a truly beautiful place to live in.