INVESTIGATION: Plastic recycling plants— Project where Nigeria can generate N504b a year in ruins

In June 2018, Nigeria celebrated World Environment Day alongside other countries of the world. The celebration was focused on fighting plastic waste that threatens the lives of humans and animals. The ICIR Reporter, YEKEEN AKINWALE visited Lagos, Osun, Ekiti and Kaduna states where, five years ago, the Federal Government had installed plastic waste recycling plants.  His findings reveal the culture of waste sustained by the federal and state governments that has caused ruin to the multi-million naira projects.

TWENTY- six plastic waste recycling plants located in 26 cities across Nigeria, whose contracts the federal government awarded in 2009 to eradicate the problem of plastic waste, are at different stages of deterioration, but the government is oblivious of this fact despite the huge investment on the project, investigations by the ICIR have revealed.

Nigeria is not catching up with the movement to eliminate plastic waste, but the government would like the world to believe otherwise.

At the event marking the 2018 World Environment Day,which focused on eradication of plastic waste, the Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibril, announced with pride that Nigeria was moving towards eradicating plastic waste with the establishment of recycling plants – perhaps in keeping with Rwanda and South Africa examples: the two countries have banned the use of plastic for packaging and as bags.

“At present, a total of eight plants have already been completed and handed over to the states while 18 others are at various stages of completion,” the minister disclosed at a press conference. 

But this statement is grossly inaccurate and the minister seems oblivious of the fact.

Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibril: He is unaware of the state of the plastic recycling plants, yet he told the world they were completed.

Jibril indeed was unaware that the plastic waste recycling plants he said were completed or ongoing, at different locations were wasting away despite the government’s huge investment in the project.

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In 2009, the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan awarded the contract for the procurement and installation of 26 multipurpose plastic recycling plants in 26 cities including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

Before the end of that administration− the projects, in 2013 were recorded completed and waiting for commissioning in a document prepared by the Ecological Fund Office (EFO) and submitted to the Presidency.

The contract was funded through the EFO whose mandate among others is to reduce ecological problems nationwide to the barest minimum and ensure judicious and equitable utilization of the Fund.

The government awarded the contract at the sum of N15million each to one contractor, Abdul Essentials Services Limited, under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Environment.

The 26 plants which were envisioned to take care of plastic waste in those cities, cost  N392 million in total.

When The ICIR reporter visited states like Osun, Ekiti, Lagos and Kaduna, which were among those the government claimed were completed and handed over to state governments, findings reveal typical examples of a culture of waste by both the federal and state government as well as lack of synergy between the tiers of government in project execution and management.

How N15m Osogbo plastic waste recycling plant rots away

With a collapsed roof that has sunk into the building, covering about five different recycling machines floating inside a pool of water that has flooded it due to years of rainfall and negligence, the current state of Osogbo plastic waste recycling plant reveals how government’s investments go to waste in various parts of the country.

Sitting in the midst of a heap of refuse at Osogbo landfill along Iwo road, in Osun State capital, the N15million recycling plant installed in 2013 already has been overtaken by weeds.

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To a visitor, there is nothing to suggest that a N15 million worth of a project lie fallow in the bush.

Facilities in the plant included a toilet and bathroom, a changing room for operators and three ceiling fans.

The state government was expected to provide access road, water and electricity to the plant. They were not provided.

Some components of the plants were also vandalized by some unknown persons due to the porous nature of the dumpsite, The ICIR learned from workers at the site.

Like the Minister of Environment, Ganiyu Oyeladun, General Manager of Osun State Waste Management Agency, whose office is in charge of waste management in Osun State, told The ICIR that he was unaware of the plant, and did not know of its sorry state.

All he knew about the only recycling plant in the state was that it “was a project by the Federal Ministry of Environment that was badly executed.”

He told The ICIR how officials of the Federal Ministry of Environment came looking for a suitable place to site the project back in 2009.

“The agency gave out the dumpsite where the machine was installed. That was the level of involvement of Osun State Waste Management Agency,” he said.

For him, the project was poorly executed by the contractor because key components such as cooling system, dryer and water for washing plastic waste were not part of what was installed.

And the state government never operated the plant− to the detriment of the people of the state.

But Yaqub Abdul, a representative of the contractor refuted the claim that the contract was badly done. He told the ICIR that both the Federal Government and Osun State Government abandoned the project.

He insisted that the plant was installed and test run before it was handed over to the state government.

“It is unfortunate the kind of government we have in Nigeria, after handing over they just abandoned the plant. The state did not take over; they did not make use of the machine,” Abdul said.

When asked about the key components that were alleged not to be included in what was installed, he said those “parts were not part of the bill of quantity the Federal Government gave to the contractor.”

Another staff of the contracted company who did not want his name to be mentioned said the government was told of those components by the contractor but was ignored.

“You know that project was done during the time of Jonathan, the kind of project they gave us, they did not complete, they were supposed to include all those things you mentioned; even there was supposed to be dryer,” he says.

“They didn’t put all that in our bill of quantity. We told them all that that time, I think they just use that project to siphon money. We did what we could do, we did our best and we test run the machine. We handed over the project. We completed that of Osun State.”

Some officials of the agency revealed to The ICIR that the plant was indeed test run by the contractor after the installation.

“Yes, the contractor rented a generating set and we supplied him with some plastic bottles and polythene to test the plant,” an official of the agency who did not want his name mentioned said.

It was never used after that day. Nobody bothered to operate it or ask after it, because as the official said, “Since our ogas don’t have interest in it, it has been like that.”

 In Ekiti, recycling plant is moribund

The moribund Ekiti State recycling plant. Photo Credit: YEKEEN AKINWALE

Like its Osun State counterpart, the Ekiti State government does not attach much importance to the plastic waste recycling plant located inside the state’s main dumpsite at Ilokun village.

It is under the supervision of Ekiti State Waste Management Agency, but the plant is not on the priority list of the state government.

Since September 2012 that the plant was handed over to the state government for operation, there has been no budgetary allocation to run it efficiently.

Rather, the plant survives on a pittance from the annual budget.

The Director of Operations at the agency, Osalusi Ayoola who oversees the operation of the plant told The ICIR that the state government has no special budget for the plant. Hence, the plant runs only whenever there is a little fund to buy diesel to power the generator set.

The machine has the capacity to produce three tons (3000kg) of plastic pellets per week which translates to about 12000kg in a month.

The National grid was recently extended to Ilokun area, but the plant is not connected. Presently, only the crusher, a machine that crushes plastic waste, works at the plant because the main recycling machine has broken down over a year ago, The ICIR gathered. The pumping machine that supplies water for washing of plastic waste broke down even earlier.

“There are months that we don’t work,” said Olu Ajayi, the operator of the plant.

Pet bottles take over everywhere in Ado-Ekiti. Photo Credit: YEKEEN AKINWALE

At the current price per kilogram of pellets which is N150 − the recycling plant can generate as much as N1.8million in a month and N21.6million in a year if well managed according to the operator. Ajayi confirmed that 50 per cent of solid waste generated in the state is plastic waste; he, however, revealed that the plant works only when there is diesel to power the generator.

Scavengers who pick plastic waste from the dumpsite were paid N15,000 by the state government in the beginning. Suberu Umar who had worked there as an operator since 2012 confirmed this. The pay, he lamented,  has since been slashed to N10,000.

Ekiti State government under the former governor Ayodele Fayose was already considering selling the plant to a private investor for better utilisation, according to  Ayoola.

Where is the Lagos N15m plastic waste recycling plant?

Indiscriminate disposal of plastic waste is a comm practice in Lagos. Photo Credit: YEKEEN AKINWALE

For hours, men of Mushin Local Government sweated in the sun to evacuate the blocked drainage in front of Chief Bode’s house on Coker road at Ilupeju Estate. For each load of waste they evacuated, there were more plastics than any other waste.

By the time, they finished packing the waste,  the roadside was lined with dirty empty plastic waste.

Blocked waterways and canals, and flooding are permanent features of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre. This is a reflection of the waste disposal and collection system in the state.

The Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, says nearly one-third of the plastic packaging “we use bypasses collection systems and ends up polluting our environment.”

At Ilupeju estate, Lagos, a mixture of the residential and industrial estate, residents contend with blocked drainage and flood. “It’s a major source of worry for us here,” Bolu, an Earth Scientist and a resident in the area lamented.

Despite the half-hearted job done by the municipal men, some residents expressed relief that the drainage was free and water could flow freely because each day it rains, the whole road is flooded.

At Coker roundabout, Ikeja, plastic waste are not only environmental threats, they are also health risks. Photo Credit: YEKEEN AKINWALE

But a resident was indifferent or not so relieved.

“I’m not bothered by those plastics blocking the drainage,” says Chief Bode, “those plastics have always been there and once it rains, yes the road is flooded but the water will go after some time and the plastic will be there.”

He had lived on the street for well over 20 years, and the drainage around there have always been sources of worry. They are always taken over by waste, particularly plastics, thereby causing floods whenever rain falls.

But that’s not Chief Bode’s real grievance. His angst was the failure of the municipal officials to remove the waste from the street after the evacuation.

“Soon, those plastics would still find their way back into the drainage,” he said, “and that’s my anger.” “The plastics have been there and they came to remove them and left them out there. I won’t pack it, let them pack it.”

He admitted that Coker roundabout which is just opposite his house and the drainage is river-like whenever there is a deluge of water from the sky, but “if they had left the waste in the drainage, the water would have been flowing and the plastics would have been there.”

“Municipal do the evacuation and one of the greatest disservices they do is not to pack what they brought out,” Bolu also voiced his discontent about the act.

From Ojodu, Ogba, Surulere, Ikorodu, Egbeda to the eyebrow areas such as Lekki, Ajah, Victory Island and Parkview, Lagos city is plagued by blocked waterways, drainages, canals and other areas that are clogged by plastic waste.

As Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, Lagos State hosts over 2000 bottled and sachet water manufacturing and distribution companies.

According to the Head of Lagos State Department of Public Affairs, Mukaila Sanusi, Lagos state houses about 2,000 Industrial complexes, 15,000 commercial ventures, and a burgeoning middle class with high purchasing power.

He discloses that waste generated in Lagos is more than 13,000 tons per day; and 12 per cent of the waste consists of plastic materials in the form of soft drink plastic, water and other consumer goods packaging.

“According to the World Bank, the generation of solid waste is tied to population, income and urbanization. If the report by this body which puts per capita waste generation rate at 1.2 kg per person per day is anything to go by, waste generated in Lagos far outweighs the official figure of 13,000 tons per day,” he says.

Plastic waste management should ordinarily not be a source of worry for Lagosian like Chief Bode and other residents.

A plastic waste recycling plant that was installed in the state some five years ago should have taken care of that worry.

The plant was among those awarded in 2009 which were ready for commissioning in 2013 according to EFO. But it was strange that it could not be traced in Lagos State.

Authorities at the state’s Ministry of Environment and Waste Management agency were not aware of such project in Lagos metropolis or any other places around it.                           

The General Manager, Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA), Segun Adeniji, says he was not informed of any plastic waste recycling plant executed by the Federal Government in the state.

“Ha, I’m not aware o, honestly, I’m not aware,” he says. “What I’m aware of is a brisket machine installed by the Federal Government and that one has to do with the wood waste.

“That’s what I’m aware of and I’m not aware of that one, except I will ask from my colleagues. I was not in LAWMA in 2013, I got here in late 2015. If there is anything like that I would have known, having spent more than two years here.”

Asked if the state government has a plastic recycling plant, Adeniji replied, “the recycling plant is a private facility. It is a Public Private Partnership (PPP), West Africa Energy came on board, partners with the state government.

“They bring machinery to do recycling; they sort plastics, bottles and resell to those that require them. The plant is at Igando. They call it materials recovery facility.”

The Contractor confirms to The ICIR that the plant was indeed installed in Lagos state, but he could not state the specific location.

“We installed the plant in Lagos State. But I can tell you that the machine has been removed,” he says.

INFOGRAPHIC: N392 million plastic waste recycling plant

Already, there is a Food and Beverage Recycling Alliance (FBRA) in Lagos that is committed to cleaning up of post-consumer plastic waste in the 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.

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.


Kaduna plant never worked since installation

Abandoned: Kaduna plant has never been operated since it was first test run by the contractor. Photo Credit: YEKEEN AKINWALE

Like Osun State, Kaduna State plant located inside the Gonigora Kaduna’s main dump site has never worked since 2012 when it was test-ran.

“The plant is dead,” says an official of Kaduna Environmental Protection Authority (KEPA) who is in charge of the dumpsite situated along Abuja Kaduna express road.

“Nothing is there, it has never worked since the day it was tested, adds the official who did not want his name to be mentioned because he did not have the authority to speak to the press.

With some samples of plastic crushed during the test-running still lying at the mouth of one of the machines, probably− the crusher, other machines were covered in dust.

Wasting away: The N15million plant that the state government keeps budgeting money for without operating it. Photo Credit: YEKEEN AKINWALE

The General Manager of KEPA, Yusuf Rigasa who was appointed on February 9, 2106, by Governor Nasir El-Rufai said the state government has earmarked N19million in its 2017 and 2018 budget to resuscitate the plant.

“The project was handed over to the then Commissioner of Environment,” Rigasa says. He told The ICIR that the Federal Government started the project but did not complete it.

 FG, State governments not interested in the project – Contractor

Failure: Osun State government failed to provide complementary facilities to operate the plant. Photo Credit: YEKEEN AKINWALE

After installing nine recycling plants in nine states, Abdul Ishaq, the Chairman of Abdul Essential Services Limited, told The ICIR that his firm was frustrated by both the agents of Federal and State governments that he could not continue with the project.

He maintained that the failure of the Federal Government to pay according to work done and penchant for demanding kickbacks by officials of Ecological Fund Office, Federal Ministry of Environment, and state governments’ officials were responsible for why the rest of the project was abandoned.

The frustration on the job was from government officials; they never paid us according to the value of the job done, before they pay us, you have to balance the equation.

“You understand what I’m saying. When you finish balancing the equation and the scatter level they scattered the job to, you are left with nothing.”

They paid over N320million and that is the money for us and money for the consultant, money for the Ecological Fund agency and money for the Ministry of Environment, he told The ICIR.

Untapped revenue: Despite its huge economic potentials, Ekiti State has no budget line for the recycling plant. Photo Credit: YEKEEN AKINWALE

“I have what is called the Financial Outlay that shows how much they pay us every time. But you know what?  These guys are wicked, in the bill of quantities, what they paid me was not even up to the cost of the machine. The machine alone was over 80 per cent of the job,” Abdul alleges.

He specifically mentioned Rivers, Cross River, Delta and Oyo states where, according to him, state officials were demanding for money before they could allocate land where the plant would be sited.

Abdul revealed that many of the states have the machines installed already. “We have in Borno, Katsina, Oyo, Delta, Rivers and other states.”

But the Federal Ministry of Environment that supervised the project has not responded to all the allegations.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request dated August 29, 2018, and addressed to the Minister of Environment requesting for the contract details of the project was not responded to even at the expiration of the seven working days allowed by law.

However, after a period of two months and a week, the Ministry responded to the FOI request in a four-page document and two Video CDs documenting when Lagos and Katsina states recycling plants were test-run. The document was dated November 5, 2018.

The Federal Ministry of Environment is reputed for its notoriety for not responding to FOI requests.  The Ministry came last in 2016 in the ranking of government ministries, agencies and commissions’ response to FOI request conducted by the Public-Private Development Centre (PPDC). It was second to the last in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

When The ICIR reporter contacted the Ministry’s Director of Public Communications, Mohammed Sagir, for a response on the state of the plants and allegations by the contractor, he simply directed him to write a formal letter.

But when he was told an FOI request was pending in the Ministry, he claimed that such has not been brought to his desk as he is also new in the Ministry.

The following day that this reporter went back to the Ministry with the acknowledged copy of the FOI request, he was told to go and follow it up at the office of the Minister.

“We will treat it whenever it is brought here, but you can go and follow it up at the Minister’s office a female staff at the Public Communications office told this reporter.

Findings by The ICIR revealed that almost all the plants installed by the contractor in states like Lagos, Borno, Ekiti, Katsina, Osogbo, Niger, Kwara, Kaduna, Oyo have either been vandalized, stolen or abandoned to rot away.

In the response to the FOI request which further confirmed that the Ministry was unaware of the state of the project contrary to claims by the Minister, the document stated that all the 26 machines have been delivered to the beneficiary states, noting that 21 equipment buildings were completed.

The copy of the response of the Federal Ministry of Environment to the Freedom of Information Request

It added that the project was completed in nine states − Katsina, Kaduna, Ilorin, FCT, Bauchi, Osogbo, Ado-Ekiti, Ibadan and Lagos, while the training of personnel was also carried out.

Despite claiming that all the 26 machines have been delivered, the Ministry in its response said, three states, Cross River, Delta and Ebonyi were yet to provide land as promised at the beginning of the project.

Twelve states where the equipment buildings have been completed are yet to provide water, electricity for the installation and test running of the machines, the Ministry said in the document but failed to name those states. And it is not clear if the nine states where the government claimed the project was completed were among them.

It confirmed that there is an outstanding of N69.77million debt to be paid to the contractor as it was paid N322.53million, which the document said represents 82.21 per cent of the contract sum.

The N504b revenue potentials that Nigerian government failed to harness

Waste to wealth: Oluwalana used to sort plastic bottles at the dumpsite, now she supplies plastic bottles to recycling plants and makes money. Photo Credit: YEKEEN AKINWALE

Rachael Oluwalana was once a worker at Saje dumpsite in Abeokuta, Ogun State. She was always sorting out plastic waste for merchants who take it to recycling plants in Lagos.

“I used to work here for like two years, but from my daily contributions I started my own business about three months ago,” she said.

Now a plastic waste supplier, Oluwalana sends 5000 kilograms of plastic waste collected at Saje dumpsite to a Chinese owned recycling plant at Mowe, Lagos, Ibadan expressway.

Selling at N50 per kilogram, she told The ICIR that her income in a month revolves around N200,000 and N250,000.

“We used to sell a kilogram at N34 but it has been increased to N50. The buyer used to deduct like 9 per cent or 5 per cent for the dirtiness of the plastic and we pay commission to the owner of the plant, West Africa Energy. We pay N3000 on 2500kg.

In the plastic waste value chain, Oluwalana is just one player aside from the scavengers who pick the plastic− the loaders, transporters and recycling plants operators and pellets buyers —plastic waste recycling forms part of the solution to the unemployment problem in Nigeria which stands at 18.8 per cent as at third quarter of 2017.

Plastic waste recycling is definitely a huge revenue generation potential that government is not harnessing.

In Kaduna, plastic recycling is a booming business. Photo Credit: YEKEEN AKINWALE

According to Ishaq, the type of recycling plant that his firm installed has the capacity to produce the 10,000 kg of pellets per day and an average of 70,000kilogram in a week noting that the energy requirement of the machine is 200kilowatts and can run on 100kva generator.

At N150 per kilogram of pellets, Nigeria can generate as much as N42million from the sales of pellets in a month and as much as N504billion in a year from just a recycling plant if well managed.

The government is not taking this advantage, whereas other countries of the world are already making revenue out of plastic waste recycling.

In Haiti, the Philippines, and Brazil for example; the Plastic Bank pays people to collect plastic garbage.

They can trade it for groceries, fuel, and even school fees, or receive payment in the blockchain. The goal is to help people out of poverty and combat plastic pollution in the ocean, Forbes reported.

At a private recycling plant in Kaduna, bagged plastic pellets waiting to be transported to final destinations. Photo Credit: YEKEEN AKINWALE

The bank pays them more than other recycling schemes because it sells the plastic on to corporations at a premium as an ethically sound raw material called social plastic. Since 2014, it has processed 3.2 million kilograms (32,000 tons) of plastic.

Some schools in Haiti, Forbes reports, also accept plastic to be used toward tuition.

“If a family making $1,000 a year gets $60 from plastic, it’s a profound change in their lives,” says David Katz, founder of the Vancouver, BC-based company. (The company’s term for the currency is Social Plastic).

According to Daily Mail, 8 million tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans every year. Eighty per cent of it comes from developing countries like Nigeria.

The Plastic Bank wants to address the root cause of plastic pollution, rather than clean up once it’s already in the ocean.

“We should realize the value of plastic while it’s still on land then transfer that value to the world’s most disadvantaged,” Chikere says.

“Nigerian government needs to be in the mainstream of nations seeking to build a globally functioning recycling economy so that fewer new plastics are created and less are disposed of in an uncontrolled manner,” he concluded

Banning the use of plastic in Rwanda has worked well. And the country is a now used as UNEP case study for other countries to emulate

In 2004,  the  Rwandan Ministry of Environment,  concerned by the improper disposal of plastic bags, as they were often burned or clogged drainage systems, commissioned a baseline study which revealed that plastic bag litter was threatening agricultural production, contaminating water sources, killing fish and creating visual pollution.

In 2008 the Rwandan government banned the manufacturing, use, sale and importation of all plastic bags. Paper bags replaced plastic ones, and citizens also started using reusable bags made of cotton.

Along with the new ban, tax incentives were provided to companies willing to invest in plastic recycling equipment or in the manufacturing of environmentally friendly bags.

Not only can eliminating plastic trash save lives, but it also boosts economies, reports the Global Citizen which chronicles the success recorded by Rwanda after banning plastic.

Rwanda, according to the report, has seen an increase in tourism and compared to Uganda, a much cleaner environment.

Rwanda relies heavily on tourism and by eliminating plastics bags can promote eco-tourism and a cleaner greener environment than neighbouring countries. 1.2 million tourists visited Rwanda in 2014–an increase of 4 per cent in the last year.

“Eight per cent (177,000 jobs) in Rwanda are in the tourism sector. And tourism brought in 305 million (USD) last year.

“In addition, Rwanda’s efforts to eliminate plastic bags and overall plastic waste by banning it saved funds that would have been needed to pay government employees to clean up plastic waste.

“So the ban was a pretty smart move economically.”

If Nigeria must get it right the management of plastic waste, Isiaka Amoo, a professor of Analytical and Environmental Chemistry at the Federal University of Technology, Akure, says the Federal and State governments must work together.

Huge business: Already, private individuals are making a living out of plastic waste business in Osogbo, Osun State. Photo Credit: YEKEEN AKINWALE

“There is no national policy on plastic waste management in Nigeria as of now. I don’t think there is one,” he says.

“At the Federal level, we have the Senate and the House of Representatives, at our local level, we have House of Assembly here. We can have the law at the top and bye-law at the state level so they can work hand-in-hand in order to have effective ways of managing these plastic wastes.”

He says that plastic waste, besides recycling can also be used to generate energy as used in China.

“We can recycle plastic and it can be used again. Apart from this, you can produce energy from it. When you burn plastic, you see the heat that comes out of it. It shows the amount of heat energy in it. I think in China or India, they are using plastic to generate power. And the by-product that comes from it, they use it to tar their road.”

Another problem is that we don’t have a continuous government; if there is continuity, the new government ought to take over abandoned projects and continue with them.

As it is done in Rwanda, Amoo says the Federal Government can also introduce Public Private Partnership (PPP) to the management of plastic waste in the country.

“We need Public Private Partnership (PPP) at all level, it is a menace, Federal Government and state governments cannot do it alone. If the attitude of government workers is nothing to write home about, it is better to have PPP,” he says.

“The policy can be made by the Federal Government and the private people should continue with the policy.”

On his part, Chikere avers that political engagement is a powerful lever for setting the right incentives to change. “Developing a circular economy is just a matter of political will,” he quips.

The plastic waste menace Nigeria is not dealing with

Plastic waste everywhere: Once it rains, plastic waste takes over everywhere and the government is not dealing with it. Photo Credit: YEKEEN AKINWALE

“It was as if all the plastic in Ife were directed here,” says Adewale Mathew, who, with the help of his friends and clients, spent two hours picking plastic waste that took over his fitness centre situated along Ede road very close to Obafemi Awolowo University, Osun State.

That day, Monday, July 30, 2018, residents counted their losses but one thing littered everywhere – it was a plastic waste. Pet bottles, take-away foils, pure water sachets and polythene covered the walkways, road and all available space.

It was after a heavy rainfall. Water flooded everywhere – from Ile-Ife down to Ede road. Roads and houses were all taken over by water.

“We have to wait for the flood to come down,” he narrated. “Immediately the flood subsided, we have to pick the plastics.”

“I have clients and friends who joined me in picking the plastic, it took us like two hours, we just have to pick and pick, gather them and burn them all,” Mathew told The ICIR, pointing to flooded parts of his fitness centre.

The amount of plastic that came with the flood was unimaginable for him. “I can’t even count, more than 500 plastics covering everywhere because they could not flow under the bridge, so they were washed here and at the edge of the bridge.”

His prayer every time it’s about to rain is ‘for there not to be flood’ because as he said, “Any time there is a flood, we must see plastics.”

Mathew’s experience after the flood underscores the menace of plastic waste which he admits constitutes a serious environmental challenge.

Nigeria has no national policy on plastic waste management− the Minister of Environment of State disclosed that the Federal Government was working on a national policy on plastic waste management to regulate use and disposal of plastic waste in the country.

This is unlike fellow African countries − Kenya, Rwanda, Mauritania and Morocco, that now have a total ban of plastic bags and packaging.

In February 2017, ten countries signed up with the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) to ban the use of plastic bags or containers.

Each year, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism, and costing at least $8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems. Up to 80 per cent of all litter in our oceans is made of plastic, the UN agency said.

Clogged drainage: In Lagos, like many cities across Nigeria, plastic waste clog gutters and waterways, thereby causing floods. Photo Credit: YEKEEN AKINWALE

“According to some estimates, at the rate we are dumping items such as plastic bottles, bags and cups after a single use, by 2050 oceans will carry more plastic than fish and an estimated 99 per cent of seabirds will have ingested plastic,” says UN Environment Program in an article titled “UN declares war on ocean plastic.

The threat by plastic waste, environmentalists say is very real.

“If individual countries fail to clean up their plastic waste, our seas will be choked and this will almost certainly affect the world’s ability to generate oxygen, sustain the food chain and indeed all life on the planet,” they said at the UNEA’s #CleanSeas campaign in 2017.

The environmental impacts of plastic waste alongside the looming threat to human survival are many, says Chigozie Chikere, a Training Facilitator at the Institute of Maritime Studies, University of Lagos.

Scientists across the globe are increasingly finding wildlife that has been killed after ingesting or becoming entangled with plastic. Ninety per cent of seabirds, for example, have been found to have plastic in their bellies, The New Republic reports.

It says the estimated 19 billion pounds of plastic that end up in the ocean every year is expected to double by 2025.

“These plastics will not only kill more animals; they’ll decimate coral reefs, and damage human health as microplastics enter the food chain.



    “They’ll create more and bigger dead zones where nothing can live, harm biodiversity, and change ecosystems. There will likely be additional, unknown impacts; researchers have only been studying ocean plastics for less than two decades.”

    Chikere explained that only one per cent of ocean plastic is actually found floating on the surface.

    “In fact, the plastic concentration on the ocean floor is 1,000 times greater than on the surface.”


    This investigation was supported by  John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.


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