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Nigeria’s inefficient waste management may worsen as UN warns of coming dangers

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Nigeria’s waste management practices have come under severe criticisms in recent times and this is set to be compounded by the rising impact of chemicals on the environment, human health and economies.

In its Global Chemicals Outlook released on Monday, the UN Environment said chemicals used in food and farming are harming wildlife around the world. Pesticides have been found to negatively impact pollinators and excess use of phosphorus and nitrogen in agriculture continues to kill ocean life and chemicals used in sunscreen put pressure on coral reef ecosystems.

The $5tr dollar global industry is expected to double production by 2030 and countries not expected to meet internationally-agreed goals to minimise the adverse impacts of chemicals and waste by 2020.

For Nigeria, the situation is dire because it is unable to deal basic recycling of plastics. This will be made more complex by the need to manage impact of chemicals.

In Lagos alone, according a BusinessDay’s report of January 18, millions of tons from plastic waste accumulated over time continue to pile up in the environment, with some buried in landfills even though science has established they cannot decompose for hundreds of years.

Experts have opined that Lagos generates the highest volume of plastic wastes in Nigeria and this volume may triple in the coming years, if efforts are not geared toward redirecting the waste to economic benefits.

In essence, about 2,250 tons of plastic waste is generated in Lagos on a daily basis, and which can be recycled, annually, this is 821,250 tons (almost 1 million tons). At USD 500 per ton, if only 500,000 tons of plastic can be recycled annually, it will potentially be a USD 250 million industry. This figure will increase significantly when other parts of Nigeria are factored in.

The UN Environment’s Outlook said some antimicrobials, heavy metals and disinfectants exacerbate human resistance to antibiotics. The World Health Organisation has estimated the burden of disease from selected chemicals at 1.6 million lives in 2016, but this is “likely an underestimate”, it said.

The body called for renewed global efforts to prevent further damage from chemicals pollution. Despite agreeing in 2002 to work to curb the threat, hazardous chemicals continue to be released to the environment “in large quantities”, and they are now “ubiquitous” in air, water, soil, food and humans, the UN warned.

But the report said solutions already exist to ensure more sustainable chemicals production, and estimated the economic benefits of minimising negative impacts of chemicals pollution are “in the high tens of billions of US dollars annually”.

Some industry sources told BusinessDay, only one company, Alkem Nigeria Limited is known to have the capacity to fully process recycled plastic in an industrial process that makes it into raw materials for end users. However, it was gathered that the company does not process plastic into new bottles; rather, it converts into fibre for making cloths.

Meanwhile, thanks to increasing regulatory action from governments on many chemicals, as well as better supply chain management from companies and growing consumer demand for safer and more environmentally-friendly products, there is a “window of opportunity” to drive change, the UN said.

Countries must develop a global framework to ensure sound management of chemicals and waste from 2020 and beyond, it said.

“Whether the growth in chemicals becomes a net positive or a net negative for humanity depends on how we manage the chemicals challenge,” said Joyce Msuya, acting Executive Director of UN Environment. “What is clear is that we must do much more, together.”

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