Nigeria is coming under intense pressure from experts to ban the use of plastic bags in favour of paper bags that are more environmentally friendly. This is coming months after Kenya passed a law that makes producing, selling or even using plastic bags punishable by up to four years in prison or fines of $40,000 in a move to reduce plastic pollution.
Over the years, Nigeria has had timelines to ban plastic bags. A former Minister of Environment, Hadiza Mailafiya, had during the 2013 World Environment Day, said all was set for the phasing out of polythene bags in the country.
But five years since the pronouncement, polythene bags still serve as major carrier bags in super stores, and markets for packaging of most food products.
Also, speaking at the 10th Global Environment Facility (GEF) National Steering Committee Meeting, in Abuja last year, the Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Usman Jibril, said Nigeria’s dream is to eradicate the use of polythene bags to recyclable paper bags that can be transformed to generate wealth from its wastes soonest.
The government, through the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), enacted laws to address environmental challenges in the country. One of such laws is the National Environmental (Sanitation and Waste Control) Regulations, 2009. The regulation prohibits persons, owners, operators, or passengers from throwing or dropping any litter (which includes polythene bags) on the roads, highways, public space, drainage system or other undesignated places.
However, due to failure to implement the law, many Nigerians still litter the streets with dirt, especially polythene bags that constitute hazard to the environment.
‘Plastics must be banned’
Meanwhile, stakeholders across the globe are calling on superstores to stop the use of plastic bags for packaging.
An environment activist and waste management expert, Emmanuel Unaegbu, told Daily Trust that the problem with Nigeria is the lack of political will to act. He said even if a ban is put in place, poor enforcement will make it look like a non-ban.
He said microplastics (small plastic pieces less than five millimetres long) have been known to release toxic pollutants which affect reproduction in many animals. “So there is the likelihood that as humans consume the fishes poisoned by microplastics, we can also be affected.”
Unaegbu said the first thing to do to discourage the use of plastic bags is to make a law where shoppers pay for every plastic they request for, as a means to dissuade the use of plastic bags.
“A fee of N100 can be charged for every plastic bag. Both superstores and small traders should be made to charge this fee. This way, shoppers will come with their non-plastic reusable shopping bags. Furthermore, super stores can be made to use paper bags as alternative,” he said.
Experts say, as a result of their light weight, plastic bags can easily be blown out of trash receptacles or dumpsites where they litter streets and block drainage systems leading to flooding.
The CEO of Connected Development (CODE), Hamzat Lawal, said Nigeria needs a forum where key stakeholders would agree to forge a common front.
Lawal said to get superstores, market women and individuals to stop using plastic bags, there is need to sensitize them and give them key information that it is actually affecting the environment at large.
According to him, manufacturers can take into diversifying what they produce and take into recycling the materials.
The National President of Environmental Management Association of Nigeria (EMAN), Dr Emmanuel Ating, said plastics stay in the ground for over 50 years and it is bad for fishes when they consume it, in addition to polluting the environment.
He said government needs to be proactive to ensure that there is alternative development. “Failure to do so will amount to arresting everyone in Nigeria if a law such as that of Kenya is enforced here,” he added.
“In South Korea there are some bags they have which are disposable. If we have these then we can now ban plastics bags,” he noted.
According to him, “Government has a role by providing them with incentives where they can get the raw material and also get tax haven; high tax for non-biodegradable materials like the polythene bags and reduced tax for the recyclables and also provide access to raw materials for them, so it will facilitate that evolvement.”
Customers not cooperating
Meanwhile, a sales manager at Shoprite, one of the leading superstores, said they are trying their best to discourage the use of plastic bags but that the customers preferred them.
He said they also produce paper bags which are there for people to pick and use but that they hardly go for it, opting more for the plastic variety.
He, however, said he didn’t know of any arrangement on complete ban of plastic bags or paying any form of tax on issues of sanitation, adding that only top managers can comment that.
A provision store owner in Abuja, Madam Mary said using polythene bags is a long tradition and part of the business.
“You cannot sell goods for people and not package them unless in a situation where the bags cannot contain what the customer bought, then you can opt for carton,” she said.
“Most customers will return your goods if you failed to put them in plastic bags for them, even for goods as little as N100,” she added.
Ban should be done in phases – Senator
A member of the Senate Committee on Environment, Senator Abubakar Kyari (APC, Borno), said plastic bags should be banned in phases.
The lawmaker said the country should start by investing heavily in recycling of the plastic bags as done in developed countries.
“Rather than total ban, we should do it in phases and look at the option of recycling as done in developed countries. So much money has been invested in the production of the plastic bags. We have many cottage industries scattered in across the country producing plastic bags. Time should be given to them, we can’t just stop them at a go. They contribute to the country’s economy,” he said.
He said households should be encouraged to separate plastic bags in their dustbins, “so that it can be treated separately and the remaining waste could serve as fertilizer in farms.”
NESREA ‘looking at recycling’
Speaking to Daily Trust, NESREA’s Director of Inspection and Enforcement, Mrs Mirinda Amachree, said, “We are not supporting ban. We are looking at recycling, same as the ministry. If it will be banned, it will be phased out gradually because it will affect the low income people and they use a lot plastic for different things, pure water and so many others.”
Amachree said “If we have a good collection system in place and we are recycling, it will not pollute the environment but used and reused.”
She explained that the sanitation and waste control regulation has a provision for this Extended Producer Responsibility programme, where producers are responsible for the after sales product, like packaging and anything used in packaging. They are responsible for taking it back for recycling or whatever needs to be done with it, following its guideline.
“The programme is in process, it hasn’t taken off fully. We have started with electronic and food and beverages sector, hopefully it will be flagged off by the end of the year. But we are working towards setting up collection centres which will collect and send to recycling plants,” she said.
The director noted that they have recycling plants for electronics and different kinds of plastics. The producers are expected to register and be given subsidy. Since it is the responsibility of the producers they are supposed to pay for collection and recycling.