Recently, I had the privilege to join other industry experts invited by the Standard Organization of Nigeria to develop the draft policy for the use of recycled plastic PET Bottles for food contact application in Nigeria. The standard when signed into law will tackle plastic pollution in Nigeria arising majorly from the effect of single use plastic bottles. This is a laudable initiative and a drive towards a sustainable environment. Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
In the last decade, production and demand for the use of plastic packaging has been on the increase due to benefits of affordability and ease of use it offered compared to other forms of packaging. However, the increase has also led to continuous degradation and pollution of the environment which if not controlled will greatly affect everyone. Around the world and in some certain Africa countries like Rwanda and Tanzania, there are ongoing initiatives and reforms to combat the effect of plastics on the environment and its associated health risks. It is good to see that Nigeria has joined the global communities in addressing the plastic crisis.
Each year, at least 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. The best research currently available estimates that there are over 150 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean today. In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, there will be more plastics than fish (by weight).
Nigeria being one of the biggest countries in West Africa generates an average of 32 million tons of solid waste annually and plastic packaging contributes about 2.5 million tons. This is a challenge especially in the urban settlement where the plastics are ends up in drainages and gutters thereby causing serious environment concerns. With the new standard, It means that the plastic bottles currently littered in the environment can be picked, cleaned, recycled and re-introduce into the production process for other application as already been practiced in developed countries.
This will lead to job opportunities which can be harnessed to reduce unemployment and poverty in the country. There are already existing recycling companies in Nigeria but they are not enough to tackle the environmental concerns arising from plastic pollution. More so, there will still be need for more middle men, collection hubs, and storage facilities along the supply chain to ensure that the plastic bottles get to the recycled plants at the right quality. The draft policy is the first step in achieving the ultimate goal and drive towards a circular economy and tackling environmental concerns from plastic wastes. It is important for everyone to start seeing this plastic bottles as a source of revenue and a means of turning waste to wealth. There are presently some neighborhoods where people are more conscious of the value of the plastic bottles.
For Instance, in Lagos, there is an initiative called the Recycle Pay Project where parents who are unable to afford school fees for their children can pay using collected plastic bottles in Ajegunle. The implementation of the standard will require support from all major stakeholders as collective efforts will be required to derive the gains from the policy. Proper and adequate collection sites have to setup to enable consumers drop off their plastic waste without any hindrance. Sensitization of the public will also be needed to ensure that everyone is aware of what needs to be done because we all get affected either directly or indirectly by the effect of plastic waste. The opportunities are huge and is still a relatively blue ocean. It is only the first that tap into the opportunities that will benefit fully before new entrants and competition begins to control the market dynamics.