Towards curbing the plastic menace

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Today, Nigeria joins the rest of the global community to mark this year’s World Environment Day (WED). The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Beat Plastic Pollution.” The theme is intended to raise awareness about the production, use, disposal and effects of plastic materials.

The celebration is also intended to be aj wake-up call for various governments across the globe to refocus and be more proactive environmentally and the citizens to take charge of their surroundings and realise the danger posed by environmental degradation.

The theme for year’s commemoration could not have come at a better time in view of the menace that used plastic materials has constituted to our environment and marine creatures. Our oceans and seas have become dumping grounds for plastic wastes. As a result, marine animals feed on them, causing deaths from consumption of the dangerous contents. There are also the health hazards posed to humans who consume these sea foods fed with chemicals in these plastics.

Since its inception in 1974, the Day has grown to become a global platform for positive environmental action and is celebrated in more than 100 countries across the world. The WED is organised around a theme that focuses attention on a particularly pressing environmental concern. The WED has a different host country annually and this year’s host is Pakistan. The Prime Minister, Imran Ahmed Khan, virtually kick-started the celebration yesterday at Islamabad.

It is common knowledge that a large population of the world depends on clean and healthy air for survival. In recent times, attention has been shifted to the common habit of dumping plastic wastes in the oceans and seas. Besides polluting the marine environment, aquatic animals now feed on them which are in turn consumed by humans with the attendant health hazards.

In Nigeria, attention has always been drawn yearly to the devastating effects of oil spillage in the littoral Niger Delta region, erosion in the South and desertification in the North. Although these environmental degradations are either through man-made causes or natural phenomena, they are, no doubt, wreaking havoc on lives and properties, and exacting a heavy toll on humans.

For instance, Nigeria loses about 350,000 hectares of land every year to desert encroachment. This has led to demographic displacements in villages across 11 states in the North. It is estimated that Nigeria loses about $5.1bn every year owing to rapid encroachment of drought and desertification in most parts of the North. In the South, wide areas of farmlands are washed away by erosion, while oil exploration in the Niger Delta region has caused oil spillage and damaged the ecosystem. This has resulted in youth restiveness and militancy occasioning huge oil revenue losses to the country.

A few years ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released statistics to the effect that over seven million people die yearly of air pollution. Nigeria must have a fair share of this unfortunate phenomenon, given the volume of soot emission from the oil exploration and pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta region, fumes from millions of generators operating across the length and breadth of the country as a result of the epileptic power supply as well as carbon monoxide spewed by ill-maintained and rickety vehicles on the township roads.

The decision of the federal government to regulate generator emissions with effect from January 1, 2019, was a right step in the right direction but the will to implement it is still lacking.

The initiative sought to inspect generating sets used for both industrial and household purposes. Failure to comply with the directives attracts a penalty as stipulated by the law.

The policy was also aimed at assisting the federal government in taking inventory of the model, age, locations and types of generators currently in use in the country, and also discouraging the use of Nigeria as a dumping ground for decrepit and overused equipment.

Nigeria is home to over 60m generators and a whopping sum of N1.6trn is spent on the purchase and maintenance annually as revealed by the Centre for Management Development (CMD).

Clean air is something Nigeria needs for the good health and wellbeing of humans, animals and plants. It is, therefore, a national tragedy that our atmosphere is being continually polluted. No thanks to the use of power generating sets which have become an alternative to power supply.

In the spirit of this year’s celebration, it has now become imperative for the relevant organs of governments the world over to strengthen and/or ruthlessly enforce regulations on production and disposal of the lethal plastic materials to curb the menace.

Nigeria’s target to achieve 30 per cent of energy efficiency in industries, homes, businesses, vehicles and renewable energy should be pursued with vigour, otherwise our efforts will continue to hit the brick walls and reduce the annual commemoration to a mere ritual.