Ban on single-use plastics: Good for environment, bad for business?

Supreme Desk
7 Feb 2024 1:30 PM GMT
Ban on single-use plastics: Good for environment, bad for business?
“Look at the drainages, the clusters of shops, the markets… single-used plastics are probably more than humans in Lagos. It had to end.”

On Jan. 21, 2024, the Lagos State Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources, Mr Tokunbo Wahab, announced the ban on the usage and distribution of styrofoam and other single-use plastics with immediate effect.

“The Lagos State government, through the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, is hereby announcing a ban on the usage and distribution of styrofoam and other single-use plastics in the state with immediate effect,” he said.​​​​​

He hinged the ban on “the menace of, (and the harmful effects) which single-use plastics, especially non-degradable styrofoam, are causing on the environment.“

Two weeks after the announcement was made, the Minister of State for Environment, Dr Iziaq Salako, disclosed that plans were underway to ban single-use plastics in all Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs).

“In the days ahead, we shall be presenting a memo to the Federal Executive Council, praying for the FEC to approve the banning of single-use plastics in all MDAs of the Federal Government of Nigeria”, Salako said.

He spoke in Abeokuta during the second edition of the Chemical Handlers and Users’ Workshop.

Single-use plastic products are used once, or for a short period, before being thrown away.

Studies show that the impacts of single-use plastic waste on the environment and public health are global and can be drastic.

Environment activists say regardless of what big corporations say in defence of single-use plastic products, they are more likely to end up in the seas and oceans than reusable options.

The say that after the industrial revolution, consumerism became widespread and birthed mass production and mass consumption which they said led to what I’ll call ‘the fast culture.

According to them the fast culture ushered in the era of single-use plastic products with false disposable solutions such as recycling.

More of than not, these plastics end up either being burnt or dumped around, thereby contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation.

The fact that single-use plastic products do not break down into micro-particles that contaminate our environment should be a source of concern to all.

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that result from single-use plastics breaking down, polluting aquatic resources and even food.

According to multiple sources, only 9 per cent of plastic waste gets recycled, as the rest is either burnt or dumped.

Unfortunately, the single-use plastics industry and its attendant pollution disproportionately affect poorer and disadvantaged countries and societies.

A 2023 report by the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) indicated that the state produces approximately 13,000 tons of waste per day.

LAWMA only collects and disposes half of that quantity a day in the four landfill sites across the state.

The rest, mostly single-use plastic products, end up in drainages and gutters, on roads, in rivers and waterways and coastlines.

According to a 2023 report by Sahara Group, it is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea with Nigeria alone generating 2.5 million tonnes of single-use plastic products annually.

“An average of 18,640 tonnes of plastic waste sweeps into the Atlantic Ocean from Nigeria annually.

“The coastal species and sea creatures ingest or are entangled in the plastic, which results in death and the threat of extinction of our biodiversity,” it said.

It is for these reasons that environmentalists and other stakeholders commend the Lagos State government for taking the bull by the horns.

Kemi Asaolu, a resident of Lagos, said: “You need not go far before you see the impact of single-use plastic materials in Lagos.

“If you come in through flight, just look around you in Ikeja. If you come in through land, just look around you at Berger.

“Look at the drainages, the clusters of shops, the markets… single-used plastics are probably more than humans in Lagos. It had to end.”

However, those who depend on the single-use plastic industry value chain have criticised the timing of the ban, saying it would have socio-economic consequences.

Although the majority of them do not reject the ban outright, they say it was not properly communicated and a window period was not offered for players in the sector to adjust.

“If as a distributor, I just stocked up on those products and you are announcing a bad with immediate effect, what do you expect me to do with my stock?

“How will food vendors and fishmongers adjust to the sudden ban?

“If there is a factory in Lagos that produces plates, fish boxes, etc.etc. using expanded polystyrene, what is the fate of that factory?” a resident asked.

This position was reiterated by the Nigerian Youth Biodiversity Network (NYBN) and the Sustainable Environment Food and Agriculture Initiative (SEFAAI), which urged the government to phase out rather than an outright ban single-use plastics.

The NYBN is the official youth constituency of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD-GYBN), Nigeria chapter.

They argued that the first phase of such a ban should have been the reduction of its consumption through public awareness campaigns.

They also contended that another stage should be to educate consumers about the plastic content of products and the harm done to nature if the products are littered in the environment.

Also, they said the government ought to have involved producers, distributors and other stakeholders such as fast-food chains in its waste management and clean-up obligations.

By doing that, they said, many businesses that depended on single-use products would have made the necessary adjustments required for transitioning.

“The only thing is that banning can face resistance and backlash from industries and the public who may argue against the sudden change, especially if alternative options are not readily available.

“However, a phased approach allows for a smoother transition, giving businesses and consumers time to adapt and adopt alternatives.

“It will encourage innovation in the development of alternative options and sustainable packaging“, Temitope Okunnu, an environmentalist who is also the founder, FABE International Foundation, told a national daily recently.

Other stakeholders also accused the government of policy somersault and inconsistency, citing the suspension of the 10 per cent excise duty on single-use plastics in the country.

The green tax on single-use plastics was introduced by former President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2023 to dissuade producers and consumers, in an attempt to reduce plastic pollution.

In July 2023, President Bola Tinubu ordered the suspension of the tax, saying the policy was unfavourable to businesses and households.

By Kayode Adebiyi

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