Waste: Nigeria’s hidden treasure waiting to be tapped | The Guardian Nigeria News - Nigeria and World News — Saturday Magazine — The Guardian Nigeria News – Nigeria and World News

2022-09-09 23:40:02 By : Mr. Majin Ma

Scavangers at a dumpsite sorting out waste for recycling

Conversion of wastes to wealth has become a strategy for ridding the environment of litters and boosting healthy living by residents. Experts say the more the environment is not catered for, the more it becomes polluted with its concomitant consequences. They canvass for policies that would facilitate conversion of waste to wealth using the 7Rs models in the waste management hierarchy – Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Redesign, Recycle and Repurpose. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes

Creating financial value around our wastes may be a way to reduce the country’s environmental filthiness, especially in Lagos, as majority of the solid wastes thrown into the streets and other parts of the environment are said to be hidden treasures waiting to be tapped.

Fortunately, the country has been able to create value around certain wastes, including plastics, aluminum, metals, used papers and coppers. This is the reason scavengers would now seriously sift out valuable debris from waste cans.

While value has been attached to certain wastes, many others are still unidentified and they litter the environment. Some of them find their ways to the drains and blocking them, posing another challenge for the environment.

The Guardian gathered that the habit of littering the environment with all sorts of rubbish would be jettisoned if it is realised that money could be made from wastes. Scavengers would rush after the mucks the way dogs would rush after bones, searching through waste bins to sort out recyclable wastes.   “I think we could have far more effective management of our wastes by individuals, creating more value. That is a waste of wealth. It can’t actually be all waste. That is why the government needs to encourage especially the corporate organisations and small businesses to get involved. It’s going to help,” an environmentalist and the Chairman of Lekki State Urban Forest and Animal Shelter Initiative, Desmond Majekodunmi said.

A non-governmental organisation, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), introduced Zero Waste (ZW) guidelines to achieve a society without wastes, which it said is the answer to the myriad of waste management crisis plaguing the country.

With the ZW society, everyone is a waste management actor, and people will reject items they don’t need as they begin to see waste as a resource.   “Under ZW, dumps would be abolished for resource sites. A resource site is a well-structured site with proper engineering and having different compartments that would receive the wastes as they are separated at the household. This would help to reduce environmental pollution and it makes the job of waste pickers easier,” ERA/FoEN said.   According to an environmentalist and Desk Officer (HOCON) ERA/FoEN, Mariere Maimoni Ubrei-Joe, the resource value of waste is high globally because huge benefits are derived from effective waste management system.

“The first step to ensuring safe environment in connection with the way we manage our waste is having a policy-driven attitudinal change. If our policies were strong enough to regulate how our wastes are being managed, waste management principles would be strictly adhered to. Currently, certain global institutions are implementing the 7Rs (Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Redesign, Recycle and Repurpose) in the waste management hierarchy.   “These Rs are in compliance with the circular economy model. But for us to address the issues of environmental concerns from the waste management sector, there must be adequate policies to have an informed society that would effectively comply with the 7Rs model, which has strong environmental management objectives.    “Monthly environmental sanitation can only be effective if it’s driven by a policy. Effective monthly sanitation is strongly dependent on the availability of waste management infrastructures, meaning that if we have functional infrastructures and a pool of capable human resources personnel, our monthly sanitation would help to achieve the desired goal.   “Sanitation cannot be a stand alone step in attaining a society without waste. If our waste management system is effective, what sanitation would be used for is to carry out an evaluation of the level of compliance with the laws of the land and not seeking an avenue for people to clean their environment.” 

In line with this, at Ajegunle, a slum in Ajeromi – Ifelodun Local Council of Lagos State where parents struggle to pay their wards’ school fees, RecyclesPay Education Project of the African Clean Up Initiative (ACI) intervened by collecting waste plastic bottles from parents and guardians in place of school fees.   It was gathered that this initiative has taken care of certain wastes littering the environment. Both parents and students now scout for used plastic bottles and cans. They have turned their homes into primary waste storage centres, waiting to supply them to the schools.

Some of the parents and students protect their wastes by keeping them on the rooftop even as others live with the empty plastic bottles inside their houses.    RecyclesPay Educational Project is a three-pronged tool in the sense that it helps to mitigate financial burden of the parents/guardians, teaches the students the impact of waste management as well as ensures environmental cleanliness.   A parent whose child benefitted from the project, Mrs. Agnes Frances, said they had been struggling to pay school fees but the PET bottle project reduced the stress.     Proprietor of the school, Morit International School, Patrick Mbamara, said inability of parents to pay school fees also affected timely payment of teachers’ salaries. He expressed optimism that the project would help to address the situation in the school as well as maintain a clean environment.

“The money from the PET bottles is not much but it balances for what the parents can pay. My staff and I are happy with this initiative. It has improved parents’ payment for school fees and it teaches the children how to manage their waste and promote a cleaner environment.”

The Guardian observed that a private foreign-owned waste management company, Visionscape, contracted under the administration of former Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, was some inches close to achieving this before politics led to stoppage of the scheme. Visionscape came in with huge investment on both still and moveable equipment and was getting ready for the business of waste management in the state before it experienced a clog in its wheel of progress.   Though there were some initial administrative and technical bottlenecks, Lagosians could feel the impact made by the firm that brought different colours of waste bins that were placed everywhere then. But this child of necessity, Visionscape, allegedly suffered sabotage from some quarters, including the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) that it was negotiating with at a point.   The then Governor Akinwumi Ambode had, after the enactment of the Lagos State Environmental Management and Protection Law on March 1, 2017, signed an agreement with Visionscape to manage the state’s wastes.   In the new arrangement, Visionscape was to carry out 90 per cent waste management operations and 10 per cent regulations. At that time, the decision of the state government to engage Visionscape elicited criticisms as the ownership structure and contract agreement the state signed with the company was said to be opaque.

In May of that year, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, described Visionscape as a ghost organisation and would not be recognised by the legislature.   It was learnt that some of the waste management operators under the LAWMA- PSP arrangement were active members of the ruling party in the state and felt they could not support Ambode’s second term bid for taking away their source of livelihood.   The issue of Visionscape was put forward as one of the reasons Ambode lost out. Shortly after the loss, the House of Assembly directed LAWMA-PSP operators to resume operations to rid Lagos metropolis of mucks.   After the state legislature’s directive and the return of PSP operators to clean the streets, Visionscape’s absence became noticeable on the roads.   The politics around the task of cleaning Lagos coupled with the banning of the three-hour-mandatory monthly sanitation and the inability of the state government to enforce environmental law led to the dirty environment being experienced in the city.   To complement the Federal National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act, 2007 (“NESREA”), various states passed their environmental laws and regulations.

In March 2017, the Lagos State Environmental Management Protection Law, 2017 (“EMPL 2017”) was passed to consolidate all the laws and regulations applicable to the management, protection and sustainable development of the environment in the state.    It is mandatory for all waste collection, transportation, recycling, sorting, treatment and disposal businesses to operate in Lagos State only under a license issued, renewed, reviewed, suspended or revoked by LAWMA. Fines and terms of imprisonment apply on conviction for any contravention of these provisions.   Residents are, therefore, legally required to keep their premises and surrounding environment, 45 metres from all public sidewalks of a street, clean and devoid of litter and waste.   All refuse are expected to be kept in securely tied and fastened plastic bags or leak proof dustbins, or covered litter bins. The Guardian learnt that any breach of any of the above provisions, on conviction, attracts various penalties among which are the sealing of the subject premises. 

Section 63 (1) of the law reads: “No person shall operate any waste collection, transportation, recycling and disposal business without a license issued by the commissioner or the Authority.”

The law, in Section 81, prohibits the collection and disposal of waste in a way that has an adverse effect on the environment. It stipulates a N50, 000 fine with two years imprisonment for persons who contravene this provision of the law.

But despite these provisions, Nigerians still dispose of their waste arbitrarily. The environmental law enforcement agencies seemed to have down tools as people now channel water from their bathrooms to the roads while others channel fecal wastes into the drainages.

The bottom point remains that these wastes causing environmental nuisance across the country are treasures waiting to be harnessed and converted into cash for better and safer environment.   MANY people who witnessed a clean environment during the period of the monthly environmental sanitation in Lagos, and by extension, Nigeria, would say the decision to abolish such a novelty that once guaranteed sanitary atmosphere and ambiance was ill conceived. 

The teachings and memories of those good old days seem to have been forgotten as Lagos has returned to the era of filth and all manner of environmental recklessness. People now dispose of their wastes indiscriminately.

Then, it was a grievous offence for motorists or their passengers to throw garbage from a moving vehicle to the immediate environment, but it happens today. In those days, waste bins were seen in all nooks and crannies of the state in different colours and sizes. It was, indeed, an offence for any vehicle plying the Lagos roads to move without a waste bin inside for passengers to dispose of their wastes.

From 8 am till 10 am, during the mandatory monthly sanitation, the streets were unusually empty and quiet. Neither vehicular nor human traffic was allowed as people cleaned their environment, evacuated the drains in their locations as the case may be.   The distinctiveness of the era was not peculiar to any town or state. It was a nationwide exercise on the last Saturday of every month. The practice went on for 31 years, from March 1984, before it was set aside by an Appeal Court’s order.

Major General Muhammadu Buhari as the then Military Head of State decreed his regime’s War Against Indiscipline (WAI) to enforce public morality, discipline, social order, civic responsibilities and promotion of nationalism.   The WAI campaign inculcated in Nigerians the discipline of queuing at bus stops, post offices, essential commodities distribution centres, stadia and licensing offices, among other public places.

Interestingly, many Nigerians who considered the enforcement of the environmental sanitation law as bellicose eventually appreciated it as they suddenly imbibed the culture of hygienic living and self-restraint.   “TODAY, all that has long gone, and the country finds itself in another realm where man is hostile to his environment even as people know that nature gives back to the environment what the society had given to it,” Majekodunmi said.   In the ruling on the case against environmental sanitation filed by Faith Okafor, the Appeal Court banned the Lagos State government from further restricting anyone’s movement within Lagos at any time or day whatsoever on the basis of environmental sanitation as there is no written law to that effect.

‘Nigeria Paying For Ban Of Mandatory Environmental Sanitation’ A resident of Lagos, Tony Okoro, said: “This filth is not restricted to Lagos. The whole Nigeria is filthy. In fact Nigerians are filthy people who like living in filthy environments. Just put a group of Nigerians in a very clean neighborhood, then, come back in a few months. They would have converted that beautiful place to their standard – filth.   “This habit starts from our public schools and public government facilities. Pay a visit to police stations, prisons, Immigration offices, zonal JAMB offices, and universities, among others, and you will see that they are all rickety and run-down. Nigerians working there would go about their business as though everything is normal.   “It saddens my heart and our hearts to read a write up about what filthy Nigeria’s smart Megacity, Lagos, has become. Lagos is said to be the gateway to Africa’s development. It’s said to be showcasing a new dawn in development, but what has happened?”   Corroborating his position, Mrs. Jones Bassey, whose son had a case with the police and had the opportunity of visiting the DCO’s office at Isolo Police Station said what she saw was filth in a flagrant display.   The woman, who visited with her brother, said she had to take off her clothes outside her house before going inside because they picked some bedbugs while sitting on a sofa in the senior police officer’s office.   “Police can be very dirty. You need to see how dirty that man’s office was. Yet he was there eating and even felt comfortable having visitors in such a filthy office.   “He was eating in the midst of filth. His waste can was filled to the brim and debris falling off, yet he didn’t bother. It was so shameful and disgusting. When I saw the bugs, I gave my brother a sign to be on alert.   “My brother also saw them and became uneasy. You can imagine how many of them are living and breeding in there for us to see them move around in that number. I wonder whether they don’t bite him. It’s horrible and sad. So shameful!”  On going back to the monthly environmental sanitation, Majekodunmi, said it would not be a bad idea.

“I believe it’s a problem and will get worse if we don’t handle it properly. There must be a well-orchestrated programme utilising entertainers like actors, musicians. We will be able to solve the problem if we have a renewal of our minds towards the necessity and in handling our wastes,” he said.   To Julius Osakwe, Nigeria, especially Lagos, is currently paying for the collapse of the mandatory monthly environmental sanitation. “The banned exercise was helpful and I wished it could come back again. Nigerians developed the consciousness of cleanliness during the period. Many people looked forward to the environmental sanitation day. It has a way of nudging the people to clear their environment, evacuate their gutters street-by-street and sweep everywhere. It instilled the consciousness of cleanliness in the children and young people who were part and parcel of the exercise.”   As a way of addressing the issues, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu recently unveiled the ‘Adopt-a-Bin’ programme with an initial 40, 000 standard bins deployed to households and commercial entities for environmental waste management.  The governor said the procurement of 102 trucks and double dino bins as well as the launch of Lagos Recycle Initiative, formally brought ‘Adopt-a-Bin’ project to life for homes, offices, churches and mosques, among others.   According to him, the essence of the standard waste bins is to simplify the process of waste management from the source. “We are at the threshold of another phase in our Lagos Recycle Initiative as we launch standard waste bins for the ‘Adopt-A-Bin’ project, which is LAWMA’s latest baby. The bins, which come in two colours, the green for general waste and the blue for recyclable items, are for containerising waste.   “These are not ordinary bins but smart ones built to last, and in accordance with internationally recognised quality standards. They are fitted with intelligent devices that enable tracking and identification. These unique devices also make it possible to register every single bin to individual addresses for easy communication on issues relating to them.   “When you acquire the bins, you simply sort your waste and drop all recyclable items like cans, plastic, cartons, and water sachets, among others, in the blue bin while you drop the general waste in the green bin. The stability of those bins ensures easy handling by the waste collectors, who come around periodically to empty them.   “While the PSP operators show up to empty the green bins, the recyclers come around for the blue containing the recyclable items, which are weighed and recorded, until you are ready for redemption in cash or kind.”