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World Environment Day: It Is Time To Revisit The Bill To Ban Plastic Bags In Nigeria

A ‘Mandate’ On Plastic Pollution

Today is World Environment Day, a day to reflect on the pressing issue of plastic pollution and the urgent need for action. With the theme “Solution to plastic pollution,” the global community is emphasizing the importance of combating this environmental crisis.

As Nigeria enters a new era led by the Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration, it is essential that it prioritizes addressing plastic pollution and takes decisive steps toward a sustainable future. There is a palpable sense of urgency to hit the ground running and address the nation’s pressing challenges. One issue that demands immediate attention is the endemic problem of plastic pollution. This environmental crisis not only threatens our ecosystems and public health but also presents an opportunity for President Tinubu to demonstrate his commitment to the well-being of the Nigerian people.

He has already showcased his understanding of climate and environmental issues, evident in his memorable “poisoned chalice and holy communion” diatribe during his campaign. Now, as the nation looks to him for bold and decisive action, combatting plastic pollution must be at the top of his agenda. President Tinubu has already shown his ability to make difficult decisions. His successful removal of fuel subsidies, a feat that previous administrations could not achieve, exemplifies his willingness to take the bull by the horns. Just as the Rwandan government spearheaded bold measures to combat plastic pollution, President Tinubu can showcase his leadership by confronting this issue head-on.

Nigeria’s Plastic Pollution Crisis

For more emphasis, Nigeria, as a populous nation and home to vibrant coastal cities, faces a grave plastic pollution crisis. Lagos, with its population of nearly 16 million people, generates an astonishing 13,000 to 15,000 tonnes of waste daily, with approximately 2,250 tonnes comprising plastic waste. This uncontrolled influx of plastic materials is overwhelming waste management systems, clogging drainage systems, and contributing to flooding during the rainy season. Moreover, plastic pollution hampers the beauty of Nigeria’s natural landscapes, including beaches, rivers, and parks, impacting both ecological integrity and the potential for tourism revenue.

Plastic pollution poses severe threats to Nigeria’s environment, economy, and public health. Studies have shown that plastic waste affects the water-holding capacity of drains, river channels, and reservoirs, leading to increased instances of flooding and loss of vital biodiversity. Additionally, plastic pollution impedes outdoor activities and deprives individuals of the health benefits associated with spending time in nature. As plastics accumulate in water bodies, they break down into microplastics, infiltrating aquatic life and ultimately entering the food chain, potentially endangering human health.

Nigeria’s Response: The Plastic Bags Prohibition Bill

Recognizing the urgency of addressing plastic pollution, Nigeria’s House of Representatives passed the plastic bags prohibition bill four years ago. This bill aimed to ban plastic bags and impose penalties, including a fine of N500,000 or a three-year jail term for offenders providing plastic bags instead of paper bags. The proposed legislation aimed to align Nigeria’s efforts with global initiatives and mitigate the environmental harm caused by plastic pollution.

While the Nigerian government has demonstrated some commitment to combatting plastic pollution, more comprehensive legislative measures are needed to ensure sustainable solutions and effective enforcement. In January 2021, the government announced its participation in the World Economic Forum’s global plastic action partnership, highlighting its willingness to tackle the issue collaboratively. Furthermore, the Federal Executive Council approved a policy on plastic waste management in 2020, emphasizing the need to transition from a linear economy to a circular economy that promotes the recycling and reuse of plastic materials.

The Imperative of Passing the Plastic Bags Prohibition Bill

Despite these positive steps, the plastic bag prohibition bill has not yet been passed by the Senate or transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent. It is imperative that Nigeria prioritizes the passing of this bill into law to provide a legal framework for addressing plastic pollution effectively. Without robust legislation, Nigeria’s efforts to combat plastic pollution will remain fragmented, and the nation will struggle to make meaningful progress.

Combating plastic pollution in Nigeria requires a multi-faceted approach involving various stakeholders. Here are key actions that must be undertaken:

Strengthen Waste Management: Nigeria must address the prevalent issue of poor waste management practices across the country. Investing in infrastructure, implementing recycling programs, and promoting waste segregation can significantly reduce plastic waste.

Promote Alternatives to Single-Use Plastic Bags: Businesses should be encouraged to discontinue the provision of free plastic bags and instead offer reusable alternatives such as paper bags. Governments can impose a high fee on plastic bags at malls and markets to discourage their use and incentivize the adoption of more sustainable options.

Public Awareness and Education: Launching an extensive campaign to raise public awareness about the environmental impact of plastic pollution is crucial. Educating citizens about the three Rs—reduce, recycle, and reuse—will foster responsible consumption habits and help individuals make informed choices.

Address Water Sachet and Bottle Waste: Nigeria must tackle the proliferation of water sachets and bottles, which contribute significantly to plastic pollution. Public education campaigns highlighting the dangers of discarding these items in the environment and ensuring access to clean drinking water are vital steps in curbing their use.

As we commemorate World Environment Day, the urgency of addressing plastic pollution in Nigeria becomes increasingly apparent. The new Bola Tinubu-led administration must seize this opportunity to prioritize the passage of the plastic bags prohibition bill into law. By implementing a comprehensive approach that encompasses waste management, promoting alternatives, raising public awareness, and addressing water sachet and bottle waste, Nigeria can combat plastic pollution effectively.

President Tinubu’s commitment to combatting plastic pollution is not only an urgent environmental imperative but also a way to demonstrate his genuine concern for the well-being and interests of the Nigerian people. As a government that may not have initially received widespread popular support and acceptance, prioritizing the fight against plastic pollution serves as a powerful statement that he has the people’s interests at heart.

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