‘Your waste, all I want is your waste’

Babajide Ogunsanwo is one of Nigeria’s leading data analysts. In this article, he analyses the daunting challenges of waste management in Nigeria and why responsible investing is crucial to addressing the quagmire.

Though the famous Nigerian music artist and songwriter, Iyanya, has been singing and dreaming about some young girls’ waist, the Lagos State Government seems to be humming and dancing to a different rhythm. Their chorus, “… your waste, your waste, all we want is your waste…”

What makes this anthem special? It is the special waste status of the state. Research evidence shows that Lagos State generates an excess of 13,000 tons of waste daily. That is the equivalent weight of 3,000 adult size elephants.

The waste standard
Every month in the developing world, more than five million people migrate to urban areas, where jobs, hospitals, schools, and opportunities of all kinds are often easier to find. Unavoidably, when people migrate, the need for basic services such as water, electricity and transport goes with them, highlighting the boom in infrastructure demand.

Though there isn’t reliable inter-state migration statistic, the size of consumption tax (VAT) collected in Lagos is a proxy to help quantify the State’s growing waste management challenge. The narrative from the Ministry of Finance reveals that more than half of the VAT the country earns is generated in Lagos State.

Clearly, as Lagos attracts more investment, it attracts more of everything else; especially waste. More than ever before, massive investment in waste management infrastructure is required to stop the city from drowning in waste. The traditional and ad hoc waste collection practices are no longer effective, neither are they sustainable.

Simply put, waste management infrastructure needs to be part of a strategy for long-term national growth. That seems to be the goal of the Cleaner Lagos Initiative and their theme song, “Your waste, your waste, all I want is your waste.”

From infrastructure deficit to waste surplus
According to a former director of development economics at the World Bank, Zia Qureshi, “Infrastructure is a powerful driver of economic growth and inclusive development, capable of boosting aggregate demand today and laying the foundations for future growth. It is also a key element of the climate-change agenda. Done badly, infrastructure is a major part of the problem; done right, it is a major part of the solution.”

He reveals that over the next 15 years, more than $90 trillion in infrastructure investment will be needed worldwide and around 75 per cent of this investment will have to take place in the developing world, particularly middle-income countries, owing to growth needs, rapid urbanization, and already-large infrastructure backlogs.

Lack of basic infrastructure and industrial capacity remains one of Africa’s biggest problems. It fuels poverty and undermines the continent’s ability to compete with the rest of the world.

Despite poverty and growing infrastructure needs in Nigeria, new estimates presented by the World Bank states that 57 per cent of waste generated in Nigeria is organic (mainly food), 29 per cent (paper and plastic), 5 per cent (glass), 5 per cent (metal), 4 per cent (others). The report reveals that Nigeria’s concentration of paper and plastic waste is the most severe in West Africa.

It is projected that by 2025, waste generated per capita per day in Nigeria will be 0.8kg. In other words, every year, you are likely to produce waste that will be equivalent to four times your body weight.

To take a simple example, at the end of the first quarter of 2017, there were 151 million GSM telephone lines in Nigeria; most of these subscribers live in Lagos (Africa’s mobile phone headquarters.)

The intensity of waste generation increases as new mobile phones replace the old ones. No other city in Africa generates as much e-waste as Lagos. From scratch cards, paper vouchers, phone purses (casing), batteries, and mobile gadgets. Of course, Lagos being the music capital of Africa is also waste capital of ear phones.

Sustainable economic development vs sustainable environment development
“I am I plus my surroundings and if I do not preserve the latter, I do not preserve myself.” – Jose Ortega y Gasset

Indeed, a key challenge in financing domestic waste management infrastructure in Nigeria is that many of the commercial banks have withdrawn and it is unlikely they return soon.

At least not until they repair their turbulent balance sheets and rebuild capital to meet strengthened regulatory standards. This creates tension in unmet financing needs for waste infrastructure.

In emerging and developing economies, an additional $1-1.5 trillion in annual investment will be required through 2020 to meet growth targets. An additional $170 – 220 billion each year is also required to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. But promoting infrastructure investment requires more than money. Some countries are generating enormous growth benefits from their infrastructure spending, while others are racking up loses.

Prioritizing investments, proper planning, and well thought out environment design can significantly boost the impact of new and modern infrastructure. It supports growth and job creation, as well as raise returns on limited public resources.

Stronger private – public investment programs in waste and environment preservation infrastructure are critical to any strategy to attract substantial resources from the private sector.

In today’s economic climate, attracting private finance is essential; because there is simply no way that public funding will be sufficient to close the infrastructure gap. One way to achieve this is through a modest combination of appropriate governance, a credible regulatory environment, cleaner environment finance (Green Bonds), and opening the limitless possibilities for businesses and institutions to be part of ethical investment.

Responsible investing
“A business that makes nothing but money, is a poor kind of business” – Henry Ford

The time has come to think creatively and use investment in environment-smart infrastructure as a way to renew the domestic growth and development agenda. The most forward-thinking private investors are now on the hunt for any green investment that offers a reasonable yield.

Reputable institutions and investors are enhancing shareholders value and growing their goodwill through ‘High-Impact investments.’ An ethical investment such as a Green Bond allows individuals and institutions to play a significant role in preserving lives and protecting the economy where they earn their profits.

Today, both infrastructure investment and waste management action are urgently needed. With the right approach, we can achieve both goals simultaneously, building a more prosperous and sustainable future.

After all, without a healthy population you cannot have a healthy economy and without a health economy you cannot earn sustainable profit.

Ogunsanwo is an environmental activist with over two decades of experience in economic intelligence management. He is the Chief Economist of Leadership-By-Data; an organization that encourages African leaders and nation builders to make decisions that are driven by data.

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