N392m recycling plants in ruins –Investigation
Plastic wastes, which have been found to contain a chemical substance, dioxin, appear to be killing Nigerians in piecemeal. YEKEEN AKINWALE, who was in Kano, Lagos and Aba, where human scavengers eke out a living from dumpsites, concludes the series
As more and more pet bottles and other forms of plastic waste are finding their way into gutters, waterways and rivers in Kano – often time clogging the waterways and causing flooding, the state government struggles with no clear cut policy to address the challenges. And lack of proper land use planning, which resulted in the creation of informal settlements with narrow streets, makes it difficult for collection trucks to reach many areas. The result is that a large portion of the population is left without access to solid waste management, making them particularly vulnerable.
This is despite the municipal survey finding in 2017 by Kano State Refuse Management and Sanitation Board (REMASAB) that put the total plastic waste i n selected areas in the state at 25.14 per cent of the total wastes.
The state government with no clue as to solve the problem relies largely on activities of scavengers like Abdullahi, Mohammed, Abubakar and others to rid the environment of plastic waste. However, the government, according to findings, also uses media advocacy such as jingles and dramas to discourage indiscriminate disposal waste, including plastic by residents. But there are no plans on how to manage the plastic wastes other than what scavengers, who are loathed by all and recyclers, who are also few in numbers compared to the volume of plastic waste available are doing.
The Director, Operations of REMASAB, Shahayau Abdulkadir Jibril, told our reporter that the state government had established a recycling plant that had not commenced operation. Jibril however, could not give a particular policy that Kano State has put in place to manage the menace.
He said: “According to a survey that wehave conducted in 2017, we selected some areas in Kano State, especially the low density areas, the medium density and the areas that have a large population. We collected the wastes that we found there and segregated them and at the long end we have come to understand that the plastic waste is about 25.14 per cent of the total wastes generated in these study areas.
“This is the figure we have at hand for now. Probably from 2017 to date, the volume of plastic waste might have increased due to the increase in the population and increase in plastic industries around the city. I know that quite a number of plastic industries operating here are those producing soft drinks, bottled items and those in production of containers such as buckets, plates and others.
There are so many plastic factories that are operating in Kano. I can’t say precisely their number but they are many.” Jibril nonetheless admitted that the figure would have gone up due to population increase and increase in the number of factories making use of plastic as packaging items. The government, he added, had already put in place some mechanism that would try to address the issue of plastic that was being generated in the state. Part of the policy, Jibril also said, was a plan by the state government to integrate the scavengers and also rehabilitate them. “The intention is to turn them into more valuable materials such that they can be raw materials for other processing industries.
These are some of the policies put in place. For example, there is a proposed recycling plant that is going to be established in one of the local governments. The company is called Sharadukia, which means waste is wealth. Already, the site is under construction and these are the policies put forward by the state government to handle the plastic waste generated every day. “We held a meeting with the scavengers association, recyclers association and other stakeholders in that line.
Government wants to integrate them into our system so that they could be considered, probably by giving them loans so as to help boost their recycling capacity and also find a market for them. We want to integrate them, especially those that are picking plastic, to make their activities formal,” he said. Incidentally, the scavengers are not moved, because, according to them, “we have received many of such empty promises in the past.
The government is aware of what we are doing but no incentives from them. Last year, some people came here with a promise to help us to establish but they never showed up again till now. “People treat us bad when we go out picking plastic because they think we are thieves. Worse still, if police are looking for criminals from anywhere they come here to arrest us. Unfortunately, many people believe scavengers are drug addicts, who also get involved in crimes of all kinds. But we don’t smoke weed, even though some of us smoke cigarettes.” But for the efforts of these scavengers, plastic would have drowned Lagos residents, who are often careless about its environmental impacts. Jubril Sabitu and Lawal Ahmed always risk their lives to pick plastic waste in Ikorodu and environs. Often, they go as far as riverbanks in search of plastic. While Sabitu pushes cart loaded with plastic bottles, Ahmed guides the twowheeled cart in front.
Their destination usually is the “White House”, Mile 12, where scavengers assemble plastic waste and sell to buyers. They were just returning from Majidun River, where they had gone to pick plastic waste on this day when this reporter ran into them.
They harvest more plastic waste floating on the river but could run the risk of get drowned because of the depth of the river. For them, rainfall and riverbank are key sources of plastic and they often go to the riverbank to scavenge or comb gutters, waterways and canals around Ikorodu area of Lagos State. Three years in Lagos after migrating from Kano in search of greener pasture, Sabitu and Ahmed said they were happy scavenging even when the proceeds might not be much. The duo collects as much as 50 kilogrammes of plastic waste a day, which amounts to N3, 500 per day. A kilogramme costs as much as N70, they said. Sabitu said: “We only pick those on the grass.
The water is deep and we can’t get there. The money we make here is not much because we use the proceeds to eat, drink and sometimes to smoke cigarettes. We wouldn’t mind a better work if we can get one.” Vague legislation, empty policy Nigeria at the moment has no policy in place on plastic waste management, and a proposed bill to ban the use of plastic by the House of Representatives is yet to be perfected.
The Federal Government’s N392 million plastic waste recycling plants are in ruins— the recycling plants awarded in 2009 by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan located in 26 cities including Abuja have been allowed to waste away. In May 2019, the House of Representatives passed a bill banning the use of plastic in the country, heralding the first attempt by government to control plastic waste challenge in the country. While the bill, which is yet to be signed into law by the President, proffered alternative.
It recommends paper bag in place of plastic and criminalises the sale of anything in plastic, its manufacture and importation. It is, however, silent on what happens to the existing plastic in the environment or what use they can be put to.
Activists also kicked against the use of paper bag as an alternative because it is also a threat to the ecosystem, considering its potential for contributing to deforestation. A recent study of inventory of plastic imports in Nigeria reveals that approximately 4,390,000 tonnes of ethylene polymers (polyethylene, ethylene-vinyl acetate copolymers and other polymers of ethylene), raw materials for plastic making were imported into Nigeria between 1996 and 2014.
About 30 per cent of plastic was said to have been imported in its primary form, accounting for 19 per cent of total plastics imported during this period. These plastics are used in the production of supermarket bags, plastic bottles, medicine jars, combs, rope, carpet, plastic film, garbage cans, furniture, and fertiliser bags as well as refuse sacks, irrigation pipes and some bottle caps. And all these products were abundantly present in Nigeria. Environmental experts said these products were in high demand and were increasingly used, and consequently large quantities had been dumped as waste. A lecturer at the Institute of Maritime Studies, University of Lagos, Chigozie Chikere, has said Nigeria ranks 11th of the first 20 countries with the worst plastic waste management in the world, with 0.52 million metric tonnes of poorly managed plastic waste per year. He quoted the Ocean Atlas 2017, published by Heinrich Boll Stiftung, The Green Political Foundation as giving the statistics.
He said: “Of this staggering figure, 0.21 million metric tonnes find their way into the ocean. Nigeria still needs to do more.” Chikere, who also campaigns against plastic waste in the oceans and waterways, lamented that as the environment was littered with plastic waste so were poor slum dwellers exposed to poisoning from sachet water produced in very unhygienic places. The surrounding water bodies are not left out as city dwellers pollute them on a daily basis with plastics, nylons, and human waste mostly from the slums.
This trend, he said, would continue regardless of the concerted effort of government to keep it in check because of attitude of Nigerians to plastic waste disposal. Though recycling is an internationally acclaimed procedure for plastic waste management, it is still a process that converts plastic to plastic, Chikere added. To augment the recycling preference, he said, the government should further hold bottled water manufacturers to account through proper legislation.
Banning the use of plastic, according to him, is a step in the right direction provided a sustainable biodegradable alternative is provided as a replacement. In the proposed bill to ban the use of plastic, the National Assembly only stated fines for the violators but failed to indicate alternatives to plastic except paper bags. The lawmakers fell short of prescribing better ways of managing plastic waste too. “It will only amount to a merry go round if government should revert to paper bag, which has earlier been rejected for its role in deforestation,” Chikere said. Regina Folorunsho of the Nigeria Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR), also believes government can help by getting the salient groups of people to create awareness on the damaging effects of single-use plastics. She said that plastic products such as bags, plates, straws and others should not be used again.
“We should go back to what it used to be in the ‘50s whereby we used vegetative leaves to serve food. We used cotton bags to shop. Those are things we ought to be doing to save the environment,” she told Deutsche Welle. As if to corroborate her argument, supermarkets in Asia are said to be using banana leaves now instead of plastic packaging. According to a report, supermarkets in Vietnam have also adopted an initiative from Thailand that makes use of banana leaves instead of plastic as a packaging alternative. There are plans already by those supermarkets, according to reports, to package their fresh meat products with banana leaves while others are said to be planning to replace plastic with leaves very soon.
The scary plastic waste statistics Only nine per cent of the 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic produced globally to date has ever been recycled, said #Noplasticwaste, a website dedicated to campaign to end the use of plastic. According to the website, plastic waste breaks down into micro and Nano plastic usually ends up in the oceans and seas. Recent studies have shown that plastic waste is a source of marine litter, and Nigeria ranks 6th in global plastic marine litter release, according to reports.
“There are as many as 51 trillion micro-plastic particles, 500 times more than the stars in our galaxy, in our oceans and seas.” It argues that, by 2025, there will be one tonne of plastic for every three tonne of fish. Around the world, almost one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute, Reuters revealed in a report titled: “Drowning in plastic”. It said that plastic production has surged in the last 50 years, leading to widespread use of inexpensive disposable products that are having a devastating effect on the environment. Quoting data from Euromonitor International, it said more than 480 billion of these bottles were sold last year alone. That is almost one million every minute. “If all of the plastic bottles sold in 2018, were gathered in a pile, it would be higher than the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.” However, top plastic using brands are making a pledge to reduce the volume of plastic waste but the impact is yet to be felt.
According to Deutsche Welle in 2017 alone, Coca-Cola produced 3,000,000 tonnes of plastic, which is the equivalent of 200,000 pet bottles in a minute. Nestle is responsible for over 1, 700, 000 tonnes of plastic annually while Danone produces around 750,000 tonnes annually and Unilever with 610,000 tonnes. Bottling companies and recyclers’ efforts In Nigeria, efforts to rid the environment of plastic waste by the government, bottling companies and recyclers are yet to make meaningful difference. This is attributed to many years of neglect of the PET bottles without collection, the recent influx of new entrants to the bottling industry and the relative cheap nature of plastic as a packaging ware.
For so many years these bottles have not been collected and they have been either in the gutter, drainages or in a canal, said Nwamaka Onyemelukwe, Technical Lead, Food and Beverage Recycling Alliance (FBRA). FIBRA is an industry coalition group formed in 2018, comprising food and beverages companies that evolve a programme called Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) under which they agreed to enable the recovery of packaging materials from the environment in order to have a sustainable environment. Five major companies: Nigeria Breweries, Nigeria Bottling Company, Coca Cola, Seven Up Bottling Company and Nestle.
Part of the commitments made by members of the coalition, is for them to design packaging materials that are 100 per cent recyclable. The company, she said, was also stepping up campaign on collection of plastic waste. “It’s a journey. Most of us have not got to 100 per cent recyclability. But then for us in Coca Cola, all our packaging, are 100 per cent recyclable as at today. Every other member of the alliance has until 2025 to meet up with that commitment.
It is not acceptable that they should be in the drainage, go to the ocean or litter the environment. So, we started what we call the buyer back scheme where we are partnering with the identified local collectors that we have,” she explains. Our desire is that it should be recycled into another bottle so that we can use it back in operations,” said Onyemelukwe, who is also Head Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability at Coca Cola. Chairperson of FBRA and Corporate Affairs Director at Nigeria Breweries, Sade Morgan, said besides the recycling alliance, the association was also embarking on consumers’ engagement and awareness across Nigeria. She admitted that there were toxic chemicals in the plastic waste when burnt.
Morgan said: “We realise that in order to stop these plastics from getting to landfills where it is burnt and get this kind of issue is that each of us need to understand that these plastics need to be disposed of separately.”
She said there is a partnership between the group and recyclers association in Nigeria to collect plastic waste for recycling. However, the FBRA chairperson noted that the ultimate goal of the association is to have a recycling facility in Nigeria. According to her, there are ongoing talks with Indorama and another multinational that are interested in establishing recycling facility in Nigeria. “So, we are not only collecting, but we are also driving recycling. From 2015 till date, we have collected about 3000 metric tonnes of plastic waste.
However, it is a far cry because in 2018, 180,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste was generated. We are far away,” Morgan said. Olufunto Boroffice, Chief Executive Officer of Chanja Datti Ltd, has also said that a recycling plant in Abuja, sourcing plastic waste for the plant comes from a number of suppliers. “We have different models; we buy waste from local collectors. We work with organisations that have made a pledge to consume and dispose of their waste responsibly such as Transcorp Hilton Hotel, some embassies and donor agencies like the Swiss Embassy, US Embassy, Norwegian Embassy, GIZ.
“And we work with water factories such as Nestle Water Factory, Elim Water, MZ Diamond to get rid of their scrap and defective plastic waste. We also have community initiatives such as Cash4Trash, Bottles4Books that allows us to clean our communities and provide sources of livelihood and school fees for those that need it, in exchange for waste collected,” Boroffice said.
As the Vice President of Recycling Association of Nigeria (RAN), she said only a fraction of plastic is being collected and recycled at the moment. In a month, her plant recycled about 200 Tonnes of plastic waste a month. Currently, she said there are over 200 recyclers across the country. Borrofice believes more collectors and recyclers are needed to join the movement if any meaningful impact would be recorded. “The biggest issue is the collection process. We need more collectors and recyclers to join the movement and we need more homes and offices to sort their waste at source making it easier to recycle. When the waste is mixed together, it adds another level of complexity to recycling, thereby making it harder to recycle them into new products.”