The management of waste is a matter of national concern as current data shows that Nigeria generates more than 32 million tons of solid waste annually, out of which only 20-30% is collected. The volume of waste does not actually constitute the problem but the inability of governments, individuals and waste disposal firms to keep up with the task of managing waste and the environment.
Every second, minute and hour, waste materials are indiscriminately disposed in Nigeria. The effects are seen in the quality of air, blockage of drainages and water bodies, destruction of land and poor health of the inhabitants of polluted areas.
What are the issues?
In developed societies, waste management entails taking a holistic approach to collection, keeping, treatment and disposal in a way that renders it harmless to human and animal life. It also takes the form of organised and systemic dumping into landfills that aligns to the public health focus of such societies. In Nigeria, this is not the case as challenges abound in all the aforementioned phases of waste management.
The major issue is the general attitude of the populace towards waste management. The ‘government-does-everything’ philosophy of many Nigerians contributes to domestic waste management problems. A careless attitude permeates the thinking especially of those living in cities and towns.
Other issues range from;
- Lack of adequate funding, due to the capital intensive nature of waste management, for the purchase and maintenance of waste management equipment;
- Poor monitoring and control of environmental policies as seen in the indiscriminate dumping of waste at street corners and turning of open lands to dump sites;
- A growing population without proper mapping and planning of their waste generation;
- Slow implementation of efficient waste management methods.
Informal Waste Management
In Nigeria, a majority of the waste management is done informally. Even-though informal, there is a hierarchy which comprises of the scavengers (landfill scavengers, open dump scavengers, itinerant scavengers and cart pushers), the small buyers (middlemen) of items to be recycled, large buyers (dealers) and the small and medium scale industries.
The scavengers recover materials which they sell to small buyers and do not have direct dealings with large buyers. The type of material and its demand in the market determines the price to be paid. Above the small buyers are the large buyers, who operate on a large scale, buying from many small buyers and selling directly to the relevant industries. This network of relationships explains about 80% of the waste recovery and recycling activities in most parts of the country.
As important as the informal sector is to the waste management structure, their activities are not adequate to manage the tons of waste generated across the country.
Developing a Sustainable Waste Management Culture
Nations across the world are setting up and implementing policies that align to zero waste goals initiatives. To show their seriousness, such initiatives are legalised through collaborations between the government and stakeholders, thereby creating a framework by which waste management can be controlled and incentivised.
Switzerland, for example, has as its zero waste goal a method of waste management called the 5 R-method which gives lines of thought onto the modes of consumption of the populace and a procedure to reduce waste and by so doing minimise their ecological footprint. The purpose of the 5 R-method is not to deprive the citizenry but rather to take responsibility and to question all current habits of consumption.
The 5 Rs are as follows;
- Refuse what we do not need. The aim is to change people’s attitudes towards collecting or buying items that they do not need. For example, why collect a leaflet when a soft copy is available;
- Reduce what we need and that cannot be refused. Favouring quality over quantity is the main objective here;
- Re-use what we cannot either refuse or reduce. This extends the lifecycle of items rather than disposing of them;
- Recycle what we cannot either refuse, reduce or re-use;
- Rot by composting. This ensures that organic waste returns to the earth giving back nutrients that aid the growth of plants.
The success of the zero to waste model by Switzerland is rooted in the constant engagement between the agencies responsible and the citizenry. The policy direction is fully broken down into different levels that cover the home, on the go, shopping and what to do when with the kids and by so doing, ownership of waste management is transferred to the citizens themselves.
In Nigeria, initiatives that have the potential to develop a waste management culture are in the infancy stage hence, the results desired cannot be seen immediately. Residential estates in major cities have begun to implement the waste separation strategy of using coloured bags to separate solid waste from recyclables and decomposing waste. Schools, Hotels and Public buildings have also adopted this waste management strategy.
However, the waste management focus is centred on simply moving waste from one place to another and not really managing it. For instance, wastes move from urban areas to landfills at the remote outskirts. It is instructive to warn that these locations considered “‘remote” today, may become settlement sites tomorrow, meaning that we are currently burying time bombs that may explode tomorrow to consume millions of human beings.
Currently, provisions exist in local legislation for environmental protection. All states in Nigeria have Environmental sanitation laws or Edicts which ought to enable proper disposal of domestic waste. For example in Lagos State, the Environmental Sanitation Edict mandates every landlord or occupier of a house to keep free and clear drains, gutters, clear the street of all refuse, provide trash cans and generally prohibit any indiscriminate disposal of refuse into gutters and channels. An improvement on this law classified waste into domestic and commercial and prohibited the burning of commercial waste and the dumping of waste at sites other than designed ones. However, there remains a lacuna between all stakeholders in the waste management process.
Practical Steps to be taken
- Develop a sustainable waste management framework that is futuristic in scope and action. The population of Nigeria is growing rapidly, therefore a framework that takes into consideration all waste management initiatives and wealth creation must be encouraged.
- Change focus from waste management alone to sustainable materials management. As is commonly said, ‘there is no useless waste’. It is not enough to keep the environment clean and pack waste at a remote site, rather there should be proper mechanisms for the reuse of waste into power generation, fertilizer production and raw materials for new products.
- Take a collaborative approach to waste management. The government must create the enabling environment for waste management start-ups to thrive and improve co-operation between public, private and citizen stakeholders that contribute to sustainable improvement of recycling and solid waste management; minimising negative effects of waste in poor communities, and improving the lives and livelihoods of people and enterprises in cities and rural communities.
- Focus on education and advocacy. It is not enough to have a working plan that is futuristic; there must be education and advocacy that is drilled down to the entire population demography. From primary school pupils to the elderly, there must be a consistent approach to achieving waste management goals. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) can drive this to fruition.
- Incentivise waste disposal: There are high chances that Nigerians will continue to push waste management solely to the government if there are no incentives to encourage collaborative management. In environmental conscious societies notably Columbia, Germany, Indonesia, Sweden, to mention a few, they do not just advocate the virtues of recycling, they reward citizens through initiatives such as “recycle plastics and get rewarded” which are driven by the private sector and supported by the government. For instance, Reverse Vending Machines – a device that accepts used (empty) beverage containers and returns money to the user, are located in shopping malls, institutions, and public spaces and encourages the process of recycling PET bottles. Through this, citizens can convert their wastes to money, restaurant coupons, shopping cards, movie tickets and other rewards whilst plastic that is collected are sent to recycling plants instead of landfills. In this way, the government does not have to be the sole manager of wastes but the private sector and the civil society/citizenry as a whole. Already, some organisations have introduced such incentives, for example, the RecyclesPay project of the African Clean Up Initiative, which trades recyclables for school fees. There is need for private actors and NGOs to put in place more innovative CSR/Sustainability initiatives to encourage proper waste management.
At the current level of waste collection and disposal that Nigeria is at, improved funding of government departments or sanitation boards responsible for domestic waste management would go a long way at assisting them to procure better and more equipment for domestic waste collection and disposal. Waste collection is capital intensive therefore relying on private establishments alone to handle recycling will never be enough for a population of 180 million people. In addition, local authorities responsible for waste management should strengthen their training programme for all personnel as this would enhance effective monitoring and control of waste from collection to disposal. Moreover, the government needs to make intentional efforts at improving the ease of setting up/doing business in Nigeria to encourage private sector investment into the environmental sector.
Finally, there must be a consistent sensitisation to the populace on the effects of poor waste management and the benefits of proper waste management. The government at all levels must utilise creative means to key into the waste to wealth initiatives that have worked in other climes and utilise this means as one of the solutions to the poverty crisis faced as a Nation.