Nylon, plastic and effects on environment

Used pet bottles blocking a drainage

Used pet bottles blocking a drainage

The use of nylon appears to have come to stay in Nigeria, as some people prefer it to other products, when it comes to wrapping sundry items. For many, the nylon is the go-to disposable container for preserving foods and other perishable items in the freezer.

From the roadside food sellers, who often sell to customers in nylon bags, to the bakers that sell pastries, confectioneries and bread, nylon usage is on the increase.

But of these users, what percentage pauses to reflect on the side effects of nylon waste on the environment? While other items, such as paper and leaves decompose with time and even help to improve the soil quality, nylon is not biodegradable, which means it tends to retain its nature and stays the same, decades after use.

So, heaps of nylon thrown away 20, 30 years ago are still lying buried intact in various dumpsites and other places. Surely this cannot be favourable to the environment?

Explaining that not only do nylon impact negatively on the environment, Kofo Adeleke, Director, Programmes at the Community Conservation and Development Initiatives (CCDI), an environmental NGO, said plastic and such others are also included in the category of non-biodegradables. These substances, she noted, can stay intact for as long as 100 years, as they don’t easily break down.

“In my opinion, the small black ones that are mostly used in the market to sell purchased goods are the worst. This is because they are used just once, and are not reusable. And because of this, we have so many of them going into the garbage bin and of course, ending in the landfilled areas,” she said.

But this is not the only danger these items pose, as there is also the issue of leakage of harmful toxic gas into the air and environment, when they are burnt.

“Plastic bags are made of volatile organic compounds (VOC), which makes it dangerous to humans and the environment. It leads to catastrophic problems, as well as, environmental hazards. This occurs, when these compounds find their way into the water, which we drink. Again, when they are dumped in landfilled areas, the toxic substances in the nylon leak into ground water.

“A lot of these nylon bags are found in the water ways and oceans, which inevitably get into the fishes and animals inhabiting these waters. We, human beings eat fish and meat, which means everything ends up in our system. This has a lot of health effects on human beings.

“The short term effect of nylon on the environment, will in the long run, develop into long term. So, everything is interwoven.”

Some state governments have taken steps towards finding lasting solution to the problem.

Mrs. Toyin Oke-Osanyintolu, Assistant General Manager, Lagos Waste Management Authority, (LAWMA), explained that aside creating the much-needed awareness, her organisation is also encouraging recycling. Fortunately, quite a number of citizens are keying into the idea.

“Nylon and plastic waste form part of the total waste generated in the state. Presently, we generate about 14, 000 metric tonnes of waste daily. And we discovered that a lot of it can actually be recycled to make more useful items. When you say waste to wealth, it means you are turning waste into items that you can make money out of, which is a very wide topic.”

Explaining how her organisation works, she said LAWMA is basically a regulator and doesn’t have a factory that turns pet bottles into more useful items, though there are individuals and organisations, which collect these items and then recycle into fibre for furniture or cotton for fabrics.

“What we do is to provide enabling environment for these organisations. One of them is Wecyclers, which goes around collecting pet bottles from the communities, though it uses LAWMA’s facilities for its pre-cycling activities. So, they collect and clean the bottles, because not the whole pet bottles is useful the way it is collected.”

How is her organisation engaging citizens to flow with the government in this?

“We are promoting the culture of sorting of waste from source. It is a culture individuals should imbibe. It is very common to see Nigerians throwing nylon, plastic and even pet bottles through their car window, while driving. LAWMA is not going to go to every household to tell them not to throw these items carelessly in the open field.

“So, recently, we devised a strategy to catch them young. We had a programme on May 27, Children’s Day, specifically to teach children the habit of sorting waste from the source, our homes. We wanted to use the children as change agents. I’m sure in most homes, there is only one bin, but ideally, there should be three bins or bags: one for paper, another for cans and the other for pet bottles. We could recycle paper, instead of cutting down trees.

“This is a new approach to managing waste, whereby LAWMA is teaching people to sort waste from the source. Once we start to do this and people imbibe that culture, the quantity of waste in our drains would gradually reduce.”

Adeleke corroborated the fact that government can do a lot to combat the problem, although in her opinion, the Nigerian government is not doing much, in this regard.

“In 2014, the Federal Ministry of Environment said it was going to announce some kind of ban on the use of plastic bag. I was so excited and waited for them to do so, but it never saw the light of the day. This, however, is very easy for government to do. And there are many ways to do it. Firstly, they should make it illegal for shops to give out plastic and nylon bags free of charge. This is because, if people have to pay for it, then it would have some worth and they would value these items more and keep them. So, the next time they go to buy something, they would most likely take the old one and reuse it. This is what obtains in the UK, and it is working perfectly, as it has reduced the quantity of nylon and plastic waste immensely.

“However, in Nigeria, the government can start by placing a ban on the very thin ones and ensure that shops don’t give it out for free.

“Another thing people are doing is to produce eco-friendly bags and reusable bags not made of plastics. It is quite upsetting that Nigeria and the environmental agencies here have not considered this, not to talk of any way out of it.

“The government should be thinking of undertaking education campaign to sensitise citizens on the terrible danger nylon waste does to the human body and the environment through the foods we eat. It is only when people understand it thoroughly that they will want to be part of the change. Other governments of the world are doing it, and I think Nigeria should also emulate them.”

On recycling nylon and plastics, she says: “They can be recycled, but it is quite expensive to do so. There is also the issue of air pollution, while they are being recycled. So, it is not easy recycling them, unlike plastic and pet bottles, which a lot of people recycle.”

As a way of substitution, Adeleke suggests government should encourage people to make cloth bags or eco-friendly bags, and if nylon or plastic must be used, it must be thick enough for reuse.

“Government should also place a total ban on the single use plastic bags and ensure that shops don’t give them out for free. People can also be made to produce bags from natural fibres.”

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