Once upon a time, we lived in a healthy world with a unique natural environment that was devoid of plastic waste. I remember listening to stories from my grandmother about how the road to my village used to be quite small in the middle of lush green vegetation, and that when driving, wild animals could be seen freely crossing the road from one forest vegetation to another. I also heard stories about fishing, and how it was one of the most exciting hobbies that people who lived near rivers did. I also recall vividly my childhood days, when my family and other residents of my neighborhood quenched our thirst by drinking cold water from clay pots with metal cups. Sadly, today’s reality is an irony of yesterday’s world. Today’s world is dirty and sick, with plastic pollution posing a serious danger to the natural environment, biodiversity, and human health. Unfortunately, anthropogenic human activities and the ever-increasing need for plastic products have aggravated the situation. Tragically, plastic has become a way of life in today’s society.
Because plastic pollution affects the majority of countries, it has been identified as a global issue that needs urgent attention. According to a United Nations Environment Program study, the world generates over 400 million tonnes of plastic waste each year. Alarmingly, the present pace of plastic waste generated is expected to double by 2050. Population, lifestyle, and income are among the key factors that influence waste generation, resulting in more plastic waste being generated in developed countries than in developing countries. That’s because the developed countries employ a circular economy through regulations, infrastructure, and behavioral change, while developing countries continue to face growing plastic pollution issues on the environment as well as its consequences.
With this global trend of plastic pollution, Nigeria is not impervious to this situation. Plastic pollution has been greatly exacerbated in most parts of the country due to an increasing population of over 200 million people, as well as other reasons such as poor infrastructure, weak legislation, and irresponsible human behavior. In 2022, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization reported that plastic consumption in Nigeria increased by 116.26 percent over a 15-year period to 1.25 million tonnes. According to further investigations, Nigeria generates over 2.5 million tonnes of plastic waste every year; unfortunately, more than 88% of the plastic waste generated ends up in water bodies, landfills, and on the streets. Although recycling has been adopted as an acceptable strategy for minimizing plastic pollution, only a small portion of plastic waste is successfully collected and repurposed. As a result, it is unreliable to be trusted as the only effective solution to combating plastic waste.
Only a few individuals worry what happens to plastics when they are discarded in trash cans or elsewhere; possibly this is because single-use plastic has served its primary purpose for the consumer. Unfortunately, the end of that plastic to the consumer after disposal marks the beginning of a serious threat to the environment if not properly disposed of and recycled. Plastic pollution has a direct impact on biodiversity, is detrimental to human and environmental health, and contributes to climate change. Mostly, these plastics can either end up in the land or water bodies. Because plastic waste is not biodegradable, it breaks down into microplastics and seeps into the soil, releasing hazardous chemicals into the soil ecosystem and affecting the food value chain, which can have serious health consequences. Microplastics in soil can also reduce the capacity of soil for retaining water, limiting root growth and nutrient uptake capacity and, eventually, affecting food security.
Plastics also end up in bodies of water, where they have a direct impact on aquatic life through entanglement or ingestion. When aquatic life ingest plastics, they are more likely to die as a result of starvation and internal injury. Again, aquatic life that becomes entangled in plastic debris might die from oxygen deprivation or limitation of movement. Some dissolved microplastics in water are suspected to contain carcinogenic substances, and when taken by humans, they may alter their endocrine system, resulting in reproductive, neurological, and other disorders. Furthermore, the production and incineration of plastic all emit carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
This year’s World Environment Day, Beat Plastic Pollution, focuses on solutions to plastic pollution. This highlights the global importance of individual and community action to reduce plastic pollution. It has become critical that everyone work together to combat this common adversary, plastic pollution. This goal, however, cannot be attained unless individuals change their lifestyle and behavior. The most significant strategy for reducing plastic pollution is to minimize the use of plastics, particularly single-use plastics, and replace them with reusable products and eco-friendly materials such as metal straws, reusable shopping bags, plates, and cups. Again, adopting a culture of regularly reusing the plastics that we buy is an excellent way for individuals to reduce plastic pollution. Collectively, these efforts may be more effective than recycling, which is the least favoured approach for combating plastic pollution.
Effective Government policies remain very significant in sustaining or combatting plastic pollution. It becomes the responsibility of citizens to hold their Government accountable to enforce policies that can effectively reduce and properly manage plastic waste on the environment. Adopting a circular economy that ensures maximum resource recovery, utilization, reuse, and recycling, are prerequisites for combatting plastic pollution in developing countries and especially Nigeria. National, State and Local Government must prioritize plastic waste management through an increment of budgetary allocations for respective agencies towards improving standards of infrastructures. The Government must champion mass public awareness campaigns on plastic pollution amongst residents. Investment in research and development on eco-friendly plastic alternatives and sustainable plastic recycling must also be prioritized. Because achieving this goal necessitates deliberate planning and resource investment, all Nigerian states must develop a waste management strategic plan that clearly defines specific approaches and investment requirements needed to achieve the goal of a plastic and waste-free Nigeria.
I envision the future as a two-sided sword, with one end depicting a thriving future in which the natural environment is rich and flourishing, coexisting with a healthy humanity, and the other end depicting humanity’s doom as a result of a dying environment destroyed by plastic pollution and climate change. Today, we still have the chance to determine what side of the sword hits us. Let’s choose correctly by taking action to beat plastic pollution!