Climate-friendly alternatives to Nigeria’s single-use plastics

The sight of discarded plastic bottles and packs floating in the open drains, causing floods and other environmental hazards are the consequences of Nigeria choosing convenience at the expense of the environment. Plastics are a major culprit in Nigeria’s flooding crisis and the emission of greenhouse gases from plastic materials contributes majorly to climate change. […]

Climate-friendly alternatives to Nigeria’s single-use plastics
plastic-recycling

The sight of discarded plastic bottles and packs floating in the open drains, causing floods and other environmental hazards are the consequences of Nigeria choosing convenience at the expense of the environment.

Plastics are a major culprit in Nigeria’s flooding crisis and the emission of greenhouse gases from plastic materials contributes majorly to climate change.

According to a report issued by the Centre for International Law, by 2050, plastics could emit 56 billion tons of Greenhouse gas emissions, as much as 14 percent of the earth’s remaining carbon budget.

When plastics are dumped on the soil, they decompose incredibly slowly and release toxic chemicals, such as the preservatives used in their production, into the soil.

Nigeria is ranked the 9th highest country producing unmanaged plastic in the world generating 32 million tonnes of waste per year and only 2.7 million tonnes is plastic waste most of which (70percent) ends up in landfills, sewers, beaches, and water bodies.

The United Nations has projected the Nigerian population to hit 400 million by 2050, double its number today. The population explosion will only aggravate the plastic crisis.

However, more climate-friendly alternatives can conveniently replace plastics that Nigeria can adopt.

Considering alternatives
Climate-friendly alternatives are products or items that are not environmentally harmful. This means they emit lesser toxic substances and they decompose fast.

These alternatives will not just limit the growing tide of plastics, they will also offset carbon emissions and return nutrients to the earth.

In research by Margaret Aligbe titled ‘Investigating the use of plastic bags in Lagos, Nigeria,’ the reasons behind citizens’ reliance on plastic were explored through interviews.

Several participants in the interview stated how it is not reasonable for them to give up using plastic bags in the absence of alternatives with the same qualities of durability, affordability and versatility that plastic bag offers.

Read also: COP26: Major world leaders set to miss crucial talks to avert climate disaster

Here are some alternatives to plastics

Paper

Paper is a more sustainable, reusable and recyclable option that can replace plastic. However, paper is very resource-heavy to produce: Manufacturing a paper bag takes about four times as much energy as it takes to produce a plastic bag.

Another drawback is that it is less durable as they are more likely to split or tear, especially if they get wet but it decomposes much more quickly than plastic, and therefore it is less likely to be a source of litter and pose a risk to wildlife.

A picture of paper bags being used to serve food for customers.

 

Bamboo

Food packaging materials can be made from Bamboo. Bamboos are a diverse group of evergreen perennial flowering plants. In their natural form, they are eco-friendly and it goes back to nature through the process of decomposition quickly. Bamboo also grows rapidly, it’s an abundant renewable resource, making it an ideal, eco-friendly alternative to plastic. Bamboo can be manufactured into disposable plates, cups, cutleries, straws, brushes and many other products.

A picture of disposable food packaging materials made from Bamboo

Stainless steel

Stainless steel is one of the most environmentally efficient raw materials available because of its durability and ability to be recycled. The primary raw material in stainless steel manufacturing is scrap metal, this means there are no toxic chemicals are being mixed and there is no harm to the environment or people. Compared to plastics which are extremely polluting and manufactured from petroleum sources

When made properly made and under normal usage, stainless steel products are more durable than plastics and can last decades.

 

Pictures of stainless steel used to produce bottles and straws

Platinum Silicone

Silicone is another eco-friendly alternative compared to plastic. Unlike plastic which is made from the mining of crude oil, silicone is made from silica which is derived from sand. It is also more durable than plastic so it can last longer.

A drawback is although silicone is not biodegradable, it can be recycled. However, it stands up better against heat and cold than plastic and it is more ocean-friendly as it does not break down into micro-plastics.

A disposable cup and straw made from silicone

 

Liquid wood

This is also referred to as bio-plastic. In appearance and function, liquid wood is just like traditional plastic except that they are biodegradable without harmful environmental effects. This particular biopolymer comes from pulp-based lignin, a byproduct, and a renewable resource that comes from paper mills. Since it’s made from wood byproducts, it’s also easy to recycle. As such, liquid wood is quickly becoming the go-to alternative for several traditional petroleum-based products.

Liquid wood (bio-plastic) look like the traditional plastic in appearance but they are made from wood byproducts.

There are also other environmentally friendly materials like glass containers, and rice husk, starch based-plants that can replace the harmful plastics
No price too high

These alternatives are more costly than plastics but experts say there is no price too high to save the environment.

“The problem hindering the adoption of eco-friendly alternatives is the huge cost compared to plastic,” said Rita Idehai, the CEO of Ecobarter.

“The upfront costs of these alternatives are more expensive and I believe that it is that way because they bear the true cost of the material, ” Idehai said.

“The cost of these alternatives has always been the question on everybody’s lips. We need to ask ourselves what the cost to the environment is,” Lanre Adesida, MD/CEO Bonnie-Bio Nigeria said.

“When we are trying to save the planet, no price is too much for that,” Adesida said.

What the government is doing

Mohammed Abubakar, the Minister of Environment, in a recent event said the government is aware of the grave consequences of plastic pollution on the environment.

Abubakar said the measures being taken to reduce plastic pollution in Nigeria include the development of national policies on solid/plastic waste management, a national plastic waste recycling program, and a waste-to-wealth entrepreneurship program.

In January 2021, the government announced it will join the World Economic Forum’s global plastic action partnership, alongside Indonesia, Ghana, and Vietnam to advance national efforts to fight plastic pollution.

In 2020, the Federal Executive Council, (FEC) approved a national policy on plastic waste management, this national policy intended to reduce the litter of plastic waste in the environment and limit the harm to humans and animals.

Incremental ban on plastic

Nigeria has been unable to implement a plastic ban three years after the Federal House of Representatives passed the Plastic Bags (Prohibition) Bill.

Adesida explained that Nigeria needs a solid roadmap, not a sudden ban.

“It shouldn’t be a big bang aggressive approach; my suggestion is that it should be an incremental ban. The incremental ban means Nigeria could start with a partial ban of certain products, let’s say straws for the first segment, then we look at another issue, and then another,”

He noted that Nigeria needs to create a ten-year plan just like the United Kingdom.

“The United Kingdom five years ago decided to engage supermarkets and mandated them to stop giving out free bags to those who shop at the supermarkets. The outcome after five years was a 90 percent reduction in bags being sold at supermarkets. Five years after that, they opened it up to a wider audience, so all the corner shops have also been mandated to stop using plastic bags,” Adesida said.

This story was produced under the NAREP Climate Change Media 2021 fellowship of the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism.