I recently stumbled on a report which said that by 2050, there will be more plastics than fish in the world’s oceans. This prediction was by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and was launched at the World Economic Forum earlier in the year.
Essentially, the report says that if we keep producing (and failing to properly dispose of) plastics at predicted rates, plastics in the ocean will outweigh fish pound for pound in 2050. Plastic production, the report says, has increased since 1964, reaching 311 tonnes in 2014. It is expected to double again in the next 20 years and almost quadruple by 2050.
Despite the growing demand, humans do a terrible job of making sure those products are reused or otherwise disposed of. About a third of all plastics produced escape collection systems, only to wind up floating in the sea or the stomach of some unsuspecting bird. That amounts to about 8 million metric tonnes a year. Just 5% are recycled effectively while 40% end up in landfill and a third in fragile ecosystems such as the world’s oceans.
The veracity of the claim especially the very worrying figures stated, has been questioned; like in this article in the BBC which raised two questions: how do you measure the plastic, and how do you count the fish? While the claims might be far reaching or the premise from which it was made faulty, there is no denying the fact that the problem exists. We do know that plastic, once added to the ocean, does not decay for decades, possibly centuries. Disposing them is thus a real challenge. Indeed there is a waste disposal problem globally and in Nigeria, this challenge is even more pronounced.
The report of the study serious implications for both governments and businesses especially in these parts where recycling is nearly negligible. When the rest of the world is talking sustainability and climate change, we in these parts make like we cannot be bothered, like the planet being talked about is different from the one we live in. One would say we have more pressing and immediate issues of putting ‘food on the table’ to be too bothered about things that concern preserving the environment. The truth is that we might soon have no way of putting that food on the table because our environment has become none existent following years of neglect.
Waste disposal in Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city is a nightmare and this is despite the best efforts of the state government in this regard. High population density means overtly high waste production and a critical part of urban waste are non-degradable materials such as plastic bottles. Stop for a moment and ponder where all the pet bottles and other drinks you consume end up. We just keep shopping, refilling the refrigerator, drinking, quenching our thirst in traffic and tossing the bottles away. They mostly end up in water bodies and constitute a huge threat to aquatic life and our future wellbeing. We need to begin to take note and react appropriately.
One part of the solution is to rethink the way goods are packaged. Can we effectively cut the demand for plastic? Are there alternatives? Water-soluble film, for example, can be used to wrap small items. Can we begin to phase out Hard-to-recycle plastics such as PVC and expandable polystyrene?
Manufacturers could redesign plastic items so they can be reused better, and rethink their production methods to make recycling easier. More products could be made out of plastics which can be composted on an industrial scale, including rubbish bags for organic waste and food packaging for outdoor events, canteens and fast food outlets.
We need to radically increase the economics, quality and uptake of recycling. In addition, the report prescribes that we scale up the adoption of reusable packaging and do what we must to drastically reduce the leakage of plastics into natural systems and other negative externalities. This will generally require joint efforts along three axes: improving after-use infrastructure in high-leakage countries, increasing the economic attractiveness of keeping materials in the system and reducing the negative impact of plastic packaging when it does escape collection and reprocessing systems.
Nice sounding recommendations but really, who will effect this? What agency of government in Nigeria should bear responsibility for this? Do we have the laws to regulate such matters? Do we even consider it important? What does sustainability mean to our government? Is there a policy around it? If there is one, how well communicated is it? Is this not the kind of issue our national assembly should bug itself about rather than their endless squabble over nonissues?
The environment matters and its future sustainability is critical to our continued survival. We cannot continue to act less concerned about topics such as this, especially when it is at the front burner of public discourse in other climes. Monthly Saturday sanitations cannot be all we can offer. It is high time we began to take this matter more seriously and do what is necessary to maintain the balance in our environment.
First published Here on Tue August 16, 2016