Following the Global Clean-up Day staged on September 21, 2019, the Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development (SRADev Nigeria) in collaboration with the Beach Samaritans and Kids Beach Garden marked the special and remarkable event with a brand audit at the Kid Beach Garden, Lekki, Lagos. The Brand Audit held under the auspices of Break Free From Plastics (BFFP) a global movement that made up about 1500 organisations across the world. The movement envision a world free of plastic pollution.

The main aim of the brand audit is to:Raise awareness about health effects of plastic pollution; hold the top polluters accountable and culpable for plastic pollution on the coastal line as well as other environment and urrge further action to eliminate single-use plastics through regulatory action in Nigeria.

As we all know, plastic pollution is caused by the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment. This results from production, use and indiscriminate disposal in the environment. Ever since the 1950s after its discovery in commercial scale, its global use has skyrocketed owing to its ease of shaping, low cost, variety and mechanical resistance. It has been widely used in making household materials, food packaging, electronics, childcare products, the construction industry to make roofs, walls, flooring and insulation that make homes and buildings energy efficient. Due to its low cost, it has vastly replacing metal food packaging in the food industry. Innovatively, a newer type of plastics developed at the micro-size as microplastics and microbeads used in the cosmetics and other personal care products is a matter of concern as it all ends up in the ocean.

“Plastic is not just a litter problem; it is a pernicious pollution problem that starts as soon as the plastic is made. Nigeria’s use of plastic in virtually every of life activities today is deeply interwoven with many of the problems facing our country today, we cannot simply continue like this” Dr Leslie Adogame, Executive Director, SRADeV Nigeria.

Fast moving consumer goods companies rely on plastic to deliver their products to us, their business models depend on this cheap material and not having to pay for its collection or disposal. The result of this is that the Nigerian communities are left to shoulder the cost of irresponsible company decisions to produce huge quantities of plastic that is used just once. For instance, globally for 7 decades now, about 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced, of which an estimated 9% has been recycled and another 12% of plastic waste has been incinerated. Plastic is accumulating in our oceans, streets, rivers, landfills and soil. It accounts for over 10% of the total waste generated. Sadly, about 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in oceans. The Break Free From Plastic movement is civil societies’ response to this growing crisis.

The brand audit involved about 90 volunteers including women, children, youth and the media. It started with orientation of the participants on the need for the exercise. Information of the brand names, item descriptions, types of products, types of materials, layers, and local recyclability of the collected materials.

Out of a total of 2,166 plastic materials gathered, 1247 (58%) was from 171 known brands. Out of the known brands, 5 had almost a third share of the total pollution from the known brands. These include Bigi, Pepsi, Nova Plastics, C-way Table water and Cocacola. The materials gathered were mostly for food packaging. A high proportion (94%) of the materials collected were PET. Although the report also relieved other top coastal polluters as Action Bitters, 7-up, Eva water, Pepsi, Viju water, Maltina, Mirinda, Fan milk juice, La Casera, Fanta, Aquafina, Nestle water, Dana plastics and Orijin bitters, Sabrina bitters, Adonko bitters etc. And almost all the materials found is locally recyclable. SRADeV Nigeria has therefore planned to conduct this exercise on a yearly basis to challenge these corporate powerhouses by using Break Free From Plastic brand audits as a data collection tool to show who is really to blame for this single-use plastic mess in various environmental sectors in Nigeria.

As the ocean continues to serve resourceful purposes such as life sustenance, it must not be left as dumping ground for all sorts of waste,” Victor Fabunmi, Senior Programme Officer, SRADeV Nigeria.

In response to the Nigerian plastic menace in 2012, it must be noted that the Food and Beverage Recycling Alliance (FBRA) was set up to cleanup post-consumer plastic waste in Lagos state. The alliance consists of Nigerian Bottling Company Limited, the Coca-Cola Company Nigeria, Nigerian Breweries Plc, Seven-Up Bottling Company Limited and Nestle Nigeria Plc and now extended to Guinness and Tulib Cocoa. In July 2018, FBRA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Lagos State Government, through the Ministry of Transportation, to rid the state’s waterways of plastic and packaging waste. The MoU is a three-year partnership between Lagos State and the FBRA to clean-up and prevents waste pollution from plastics and other food and beverage packaging, on Lagos State’s inland waterways. The programme focuses on evacuation for recycling of packaging waste collected from the four inland waterways: Five-cowrie Creek to Lekki; Marina through Elegbata and Osborne to Oworonshoki, waterways from Apapa through Kirikiri, Mile 2, Festac to Oke-Afa, and the Ikorodu Axis, which covers Ipakodo, Ibeshe, Baiyeku, Ijede and Badore.

However, the success of the MoU of alliance with the Lagos State government needs to be appraised to consider what needs to be improved upon considering the present plastic plague on the state. Moreover, products from these companies in alliance are been supplied to other Nigerian states where the menace of plastic is outrageously devastating, shouldn’t there be an intervention to mop up this concern.

“The outcome of this one phase brand audit have shown clearly that structures and institutions created to manage this waste are simply inefficient or incapable to cope with the enormity of the plastics tsunami”, said Dr Leslie Adogame.

The African continent is currently the global leader in plastic bag regulations with 34 countries that have adopted nationwide taxes or bans on single-use plastic bags. In particular, East Africa has given hope to many when it comes to effectively restricting the production, distribution and consumption of single-use plastic products. Rwanda, Kenya and most recently Tanzania have been strongly enforcing their bans on plastic bags. Ever since Rwanda banned plastic bags over 10 years ago, the capital city of Kigali is considered by many to be the cleanest city in Africa.

SRADeV Nigeria and its associates believe banning single use plastics, Nigeria will contribute to the achievement of the following Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) targets:

  • By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystem to avoid significant adverse impact, including by strengthening their resilience, and taking action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans.
  • By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment
  • By 2030 substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water, and soil pollution and contamination.
  • By 2025, prevent and significantly marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution.

To significantly curb the menace of plastics, a regulatory-concerted approach is urgently needed. We strongly recommend the following:

  • We make an urgent call on government of Lagos state to ban on single-use plastics to ‘break free from plastic’ Lagos plastics tsunami. Establish a Plastics Task Force (PTF) now.
  • Federal Government to institutionalise 4Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Reject. Immediate regulation against plastic use in Nigeria is needed.
  • The government should invoke nationwide tax on plastics or the polluters principle on corporate bodies and plastic enterprises.
  • All stakeholders particularly industry should engage in researches that provide alternatives to replace the single-use plastics.
  • NESREA should enforce Extended Producers Responsibilities (EPR) programs against corporate organisations such as establishing buy-back centres in the country.

“In today’s world the principles of environmental justice, social justice, public health, and human rights should lead government policy, not the demands of elites and corporations.This is a future we believe in and are creating together”, said Dr Leslie Adogame.

• Marc Philips