By Nnamdi Odumody
According to the State of Plastics Report, only 9% of the nine billion tons of plastic in the world ever produced are recycled. More than 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016 across the world, up from about 300 billion a decade ago. By 2021, this figure will increase to 583.3 billion, according to Euromonitor International’s global packaging trends report.
An estimated 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s. About 91% of plastic waste isn’t recycled. According to National Geographic Channel, 73% of all beach litter is plastic. 10 rivers across Asia and Africa carry 90% of the plastic which ends up in the oceans while it takes 10-1000 years for all types of plastic waste to decompose. Victor Igonoh, an Environmentalist, states that by 2050 plastic bottles will be more than fishes in the ocean.
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Nela Duke, CEO of Obudu Conservation Centre, pegged the production of plastic bottles in Nigeria to about fifteen thousand tons per day (around 5.4 million annually) while Greenpeace stated that Coca Cola produces more than 100 billion PET bottles every year. It also said that the top six beverage companies in the world use a combined average of 6.6% of recycled PET bottles in their products.
The average person uses 70,000 microplastics every year while about 500 billion – 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually. Ingestion of plastic kills an estimated 1 million marine birds and 100,000 marine animals each year and by 2050 there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills.
Being non-biodegradable, plastics remain where they are, without decomposing, for a long time and causes serious damage to its environment. Plastic leaches harmful chemicals like carcinogens, endocrine disruptions, phthalates, heavy metals, and more when kept for a long time.
Considering the harmful effects of plastic to the environment, a few countries have taken strict measure to ban or tax plastic bags. In August 2017, Kenya introduced penalties on plastic bags which range from a four year prison sentence, or a fine of $40,000 on anyone caught using polythene bags while neighboring Tanzania in April 2019 has announced a plan to ban, the importation, production, sale and consumption of all single use plastic bags by July 2019.
Kenya introduced one of the world’s toughest laws against plastic bags in 2017. Now, Kenyans who are caught producing, selling, or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40,000 (£31,000).
Other countries that have banned, partially banned, or taxed single-use plastic bags include China, France, Rwanda, and Italy.
To curb this menace in Nigeria, a nongovernmental organization, Developmental Association For Renewable Energy, and its technical partners in Kaduna State engaged youths on recycling disused plastic into interlocking tiles, roofing titles, blocks and other industrial purposes. This technology called Ecobricks was developed by a U.K based NGO Waste Aid to turn plastic wealth into eco-friendly products.
An ecobrick is a plastic bottle packed with plastic to a set density to create a reusable building block. Ecobricks are used to make modular furniture, garden spaces and full-scale buildings such as schools and houses.
The Federal Ministry of Environment and State Chapters should collaborate with the private sector in developing technology to track plastic used and discarded across the country, and come up with stiff penalties on producers and consumers of plastics in Nigeria while research and development to produce environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic should be done.