Nigeria’s failure to formalise its waste recycling sector deprives the country of value from an estimated 32 million tonnes of waste generated yearly and complicates environmental pollution, BusinessDay analysis shows.
According to a United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) report, Nigeria generates over 32 million tonnes of waste annually with plastic accounting for 2.5 million tonnes. Nigeria is among the top 20 nations that contribute 83 percent of the total volume of land-based plastic waste that ends up in the oceans.
A World Bank report estimates that at 0.51 kilogrammes of waste generated daily by each Nigerian, it is forecasted to rise to 107 million tonnes by 2050 – a development that presents both a threat and an opportunity.
Landfills are overflowing in states like Borno, Aba, and Osun states. Over 200,000 tonnes of plastics from Nigeria end up in the Atlantic Ocean. Last year, the international non-profit Clean-Up Nigeria, with consultative status with the United Nations, found that over 172.7 million Nigerians are living in an unclean environment. This puts them at risk for diseases.
However, a national strategy to manage and commercialise waste is expected to deliver great value. For example, in February, the Federal Ministry of Environment, the Embassy of Japan in Nigeria, and UNIDO signed a $2.8 million agreement to support government efforts to develop sustainable plastic waste management through the promotion of circular economy practices.
Multilateral institutions like the World Bank finances and advises on solid waste management projects using a diverse suite of products and services, including traditional loans, results-based financing, development policy financing, and technical advisory.
This funding addresses the entire lifecycle of waste – from generation to collection and transportation, and finally treatment and disposal. This creates what is termed the circular economy.
While products and resources are made, used and disposed of in a “linear economy”, in a circular economy, they are recycled, repaired, and reused. This approach eliminates waste, strengthens resilience, and is fast gaining traction as a new model for sustainable growth, according to a World Economic Forum (WEF) report.
“The circular economy offers a promising opportunity for economic development, value creation, and skills development for Africa,” said Al-Hamndou Dorsouma, acting director of Climate Change and Green Growth at African Development Bank.
The Federal Government has demonstrated a willingness to harness waste generated in Nigeria. This had led to the development of two national policies, one on solid waste management (2020) and the other on plastics lifecycle management (2020), with the support of UNIDO.
In 2021, Nigeria joined the multilateral initiative against plastic pollution, the WEF’s Global Plastic Action Partnership, and established a Nigeria Circular Economy Working Group to advance national efforts to address plastic pollution.
The objectives of the national policy on waste include promoting a clean and healthy environment, promoting private sector investments in solid waste management, and creating wealth and employment from waste management.
Two years on, what comes close to a circular economy approach in Nigeria are the operations of informal recyclers and in recent times, efforts by companies including Coca-Cola to recycle and reuse solid waste.
Recycling in Nigeria is done as an informal sector, comprising scavengers who try to make a living through scouting for valuable materials like paper, plastic, glass, metal, and e-waste. This process, though done at an informal level, has helped in the reduction of the volume of waste disposed of, noted a study on solid waste led by C. C. Ike, a lecturer at the Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Usually scavengers who operate at the landfill site, legal and illegal waste dumps and the itinerant bottle and cart pushers recover materials, which they sell to small buyers/middlemen.
The small buyers/middlemen operate as a cartel, making it almost impossible for new entrants to come into the business while also fending off competition.
The large buyers with large capital outlay sell directly to the relevant industries. Sometimes they have contractual agreements with the small buyers/middlemen who gather and supply materials in order to assure the supply of an adequate volume and quality of materials.
Metal brokers collect truckloads of metals around the end of each week and supply them to the metal industries in Ikeja, Lagos, and metal recycling industries in Ogun State.
“This network of relationships explains about 80 percent of the waste recovery and recycling activities in Lagos,” said TC Nzeadibe and HC Iwuoha of the Department Of Geography, University Of Nigeria, Nsukka in a study on waste management and recycling.
Efforts by industries to contain solid waste are showing results. In 2005, the Coca-Cola System, comprising Nigerian Bottling Company and Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited, partnered Alkem, a synthetic fiber manufacturer, to introduce the PET collection and buy-back scheme, launching the first PET collection and sorting centres in the country.
Coca-Cola Nigeria, through its foundation, now targets collecting and recycling 15 percent of its packaging in 2022.
While these are commendable, experts say they may be inadequate if Nigeria would extract the most value from its solid waste.
OECD countries generate $2.6 per kg of materials consumed, compared to $1.7 per kg in 2000, according to one of the organisation’s report.
The share of municipal solid waste landfilled in the OECD area has decreased from 61 percent to 42 percent between 1995 and 2017, with some countries no longer using landfills (Switzerland, Germany, Finland Sweden, and Belgium), the report said.
Sweden recently ran out of waste to recycle and began looking at importing.
According to Nigeria’s solid waste policy, a lack of a legislative framework to control the incidence of unsound waste management practices; and the inadequacy of existing infrastructure to adequately manage the amount and types of waste generated are key challenges to formalising the sector.
It also blamed the non-implementation of existing laws and legislations, the need for the upgrade of obsolete legal instruments, and inadequate budgetary provisions and funding mechanisms.
There are also poor monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to guide the environmentally safe and sound practices in solid waste management.