Poor waste management as Nigeria’s bane to achieving sustainable development goals

WASTEAfter exhaustive global consultations, the world, under the umbrella of United Nations gathered in New York in September, 2015 to sign the outcome which resulted in the 17 global goals for sustainable development otherwise known as “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” The SDGs which succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will run till 2030. It aims at creating prosperity for people in a safe planet.

Achieving goals 3, 7, 11 and 13 of SDGs which include good health and wellbeing, affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities and communities and climate action respectively will depend on our effective waste management practices going forward. Regrettably, it is pertinent to note that, one of the impediments to achieving some the SDGs in Nigeria is open burning of garbage by households and communities.

Open burning of garbage refers to burning of garbage in open pits, outdoor furnaces, barrels and communal open waste dump-sites by individual households or entire communities.

Several reasons exist for this. It is common for entire communities to dump their refuse along streets with collection only after several days. In a bid to reduce the volume of such indiscriminate dumping, the practice of open burning of the disposed garbage is resultant.

For some others, it is easier to burn their waste than haul it to local collection sites. For others still, it is a means to escape paying for waste collection services. In many rural communities and urban slums, open burning of garbage is the only way people get rid of their waste.

Open burning of refuse poses serious environmental and health risks for people directly exposed to emitted smoke. Children, the elderly and people with sensitive respiratory systems are especially affected. Medical experts have determined that short term exposures can cause headaches, nausea and rashes with increased risk of health disease over time

With Nigeria’s exponential population growth and general changing consumption patterns, solid waste management will continue to pose as a big issue considering the very poor waste management systems in existence in most cities in Nigeria.

Essentially, open burning of garbage is popular where open burning bylaws are not enforced or absent and garbage collection systems are weak or non-existent.
One may ask, “We have been burning refuse for ages, so why are we talking about it now?” What is up in this smoke?

Current research indicates that open burning of materials as seemingly harmless as paper, food scraps, yard waste, construction debris releases cancer-causing compounds and other toxic substances.

Open burning of refuse poses serious environmental and health risks for people directly exposed to emitted smoke. Children, the elderly and people with sensitive respiratory systems are especially affected. Medical experts have determined that short term exposures can cause headaches, nausea and rashes with increased risk of health disease over time.

Some of the pollutants contained in the smoke from open burning include dioxins, furans, arsenic, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Mercury, Lead, Carbon monoxide and Nitrogen oxides.

Exposure to dioxins and furans has been linked to some types of cancer; livers problems; impairment of the immune system, the endocrine system, and reproductive systems among other health effects. Also, dioxins and furans produced from open burning of garbage can settle of plants which are eaten by animals which one way or the other end up on our meal tables.

Nitrogen oxides are partially responsible for acid rain and contribute to global warming, ozone depletion, and the formation of smog. Carbon monoxide (CO) reacts chemically with sunlight to create harmful ozone. Its production can significantly impact ambient air quality.

Particularly dangerous is that, open burning releases pollutants at ground level where they are easily inhaled or injected into the food chain. In addition, open burning of waste is responsible for many bush and forest fires which have the potential to destroy entire ecosystems.

Thus, with no operational material recovery facility (MRF) and weak enforcement of sustainable waste management practices in Nigeria, solid waste disposal in open non-sanitary dumpsites (often set on fire) will continue with its damning consequences.

So, what can be done to better manage our garbage? Relying on waste management hierarchy, the best practice is to follow the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) but all waste can be reduced, reused or recycled thus the need for energy Recovery which will be the 4th R.

The supporting argument is ‘if we must burn garbage, let’s burn it in a controlled environment for energy generation.’ Furthermore, Europe Union Waste Framework Directive counts efficient recovery as recycling. In addition, energy recovery is an efficient means of ensuring zero waste to dumpsites.

The process of energy recovery entails harnessing the chemical energy stored in waste materials by converting it to thermal energy (which is used to ultimately generate steam), then to mechanical energy (high pressure, high temperature dry steam turns the blades of the turbine), and finally to electrical energy (via the generator connected to the turbine).

For health and environmental safety, energy from waste plants is fitted with air pollution control equipment like anhydrous ammonia injection in the boiler to control nitrogen oxides emissions; activated carbon injection in the scrubber to control mercury and dioxin/furan emissions; lime injection in the scrubber to control acid gas emissions; particulate removal systems etc.

The process of energy recovery entails harnessing the chemical energy stored in waste materials by converting it to thermal energy (which is used to ultimately generate steam), then to mechanical energy (high pressure, high temperature dry steam turns the blades of the turbine), and finally to electrical energy (via the generator connected to the turbine).

Beyond the health and environmental benefits of controlled burning of waste, it is a sustainable alternate electricity source with potential of improving supply currently poor at 30W per capital. Essentially, it can improve Nigeria’s energy mix and capacity. For example, Sweden has shown that hundreds of megawatts of electricity can be derived from controlled burning of garbage. Sweden’s installed energy from waste plants generates electricity for about 250,000 households (per capital electricity generation in Sweden is 15,000kWh/year).

With many cities in Nigeria generating hundreds of thousands tons of waste annually and most of it ending up in open dumpsites and street corners, waste – fuel for energy recovery plants – continue to deface our cities.

Energy from waste is considered a clean energy source. Thus, with Nigerian’s in her intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) committing to a 20 per cent greenhouse gas reduction, energy recovery plants is an appropriate addition for target attainment.

Finally, while this article argues for energy from waste plants installation, the best practice is to prevent waste generation ab initio.
• Unaegbu, an Environmental Activist, Renewable Energy and Waste Management Expert at Green Transacts/CLIMATTERS, writes from Abuja
Email: emmaunaegbu@gmail.com, Twitter: @emmalysis
Phone: 08037502850



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