Nigeria needs to ban single use plastics – Adesida
LARRY ADESIDA is the CEO/MD of Bonnie Bio Nigeria and one of the executive directors of BonnieBio International. In this interview with MERCY AYODELE, he discusses why Nigeria needs an urgent response to plastic pollution and the best roadmap for the country towards implementing a plastic ban.
What informed the decision to start BonnieBio Nigeria?
Bonnie Bio was started by two South Africans approximately five years ago. They looked at the problem of single-use plastics, a challenge made all the more pressing for Africa as many countries around the world were beginning to turn away from the use of single-use plastic. In the beginning, we were looking at alternatives and bio-degradable components but we quickly discovered that the word bio-degradable was not the correct definition or objective of our solution, so we moved away from that and rebranded ourselves as exactly what we are: a compostable alternative to single-use plastic. That was the birth of BonnieBio itself.
When we look at the Nigerian market, a country with a population of 200 million and growing, the issue around plastic pollution has never been adequately addressed. It’s fair to say that with the nation facing the challenges it currently has, plastic and environmental issues are not the topmost priority.
However, the impact of plastic pollution on the environment, marine life and human health is growing by the day. To make matters worse, Covid-19 came in and increased the use of plastic four-fold during that period. Disposable facemasks have created an issue of their own. In Nigeria, we throw them into our streets and they make their way into our waterways and ocean. Yes, we have organizations like the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) picking up our waste and taking them to landfills but what exactly do we do with the plastics?
We can talk about recycling and upcycling but that just accounts for 10 percent of all produced plastic. What about the 90 percent? In Nigeria as a whole, it is estimated that we consume about 80 million pure water sachets a day. If that’s true, what do we do with all this plastic after use?
Nigeria uses 32 million tons of plastic a day and with the population projected to double by 2050, the country will be dealing with a lot more
When we looked at the top supermarkets in Nigeria, on average they give out about 100 million plastic bags to consumers yearly, all bags that end up clogging our pipes, becoming an eyesore on our streets, and filling our landfills. This is why Bonnie Bio is a way forward for Nigeria.
We have seen countries like Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya and many others ban single-use plastics but Nigeria, which should be the giant of Africa and should set the pace for other African countries, is lagging.
What is the difference between biodegradable and compostable? And why did you choose compostable?
Everything to an extent will degrade and that’s where the word ‘biodegradable’ comes from. The critical factor is the length of time taken. “It is estimated that a typical drinking straw takes about 500 years before it starts to degrade. This means every single drinking straw ever manufactured is still with us today. However, when we talk about compostable, we are talking about a substance that will degrade within a shorter period. For instance, our pure water sachets can begin to degrade under 5 weeks and will fully decompose within 5 weeks to 3 months, under the right conditions. We have international certifications to testify to the fact that our products do what we say they do, and we have tested them with private organizations as well as the Lagos state government, who have attested to the fact that our products work.
Most pure water sachets in Nigeria start to decompose after 40 years and when they decompose, they release toxic gases but a BonnieBio product does not. This is because our products are made partially with cornstarch which simply goes back into the soil and becomes fertilizer.
Do you think it is feasible for Nigeria to ban plastic?
I would say yes but to achieve that, we need to come up with a solid roadmap. It shouldn’t be a big bang aggressive approach; my suggestion is that it should be an incremental ban. This has been tested around the world. An incremental ban means Nigeria could start with a partial ban of certain products, let’s say straws for the first segment, then we look at another issue, and then another. Nigeria needs to create a ten-year plan. Nigeria should be looking to do something similar to what is done in the United Kingdom and other African countries such as Kenya and Rwanda.
Five years ago, the United Kingdom decided to engage supermarkets and mandated them to stop giving out free bags to shoppers. Shop goers are required to either bring their bags from home or pay a small fee for a plastic bag. The outcome after five years has been a 90 percent reduction in bags being sold at supermarkets. Five years after that, the law has been expanded to include a wider audience, so all corner shops have also been mandated to stop issuing free plastic bags.
We also need to be mindful of plastic problems that have only started in the last 25 years. For instance, when I was growing up, when we needed to get soft drinks, we went with our bottles and in the absence of a bottle, you would need to drop a deposit that the customer would get back when the bottle was returned.
With a good framework, a strategic roadmap and effective government policies, Nigeria can successfully ban single-use plastics.
What alternative does BonnieBio Nigeria offer as an alternative to plastics?
We have an extensive range of products, ranging from straws to cutleries, bin bags, refuse bags, tote bags, cups, bottles, water sachets and we are also going into food packaging.
Nigerians consume a vast amount of plastic food packs, as it is used at almost all events and parties. Does BonnieBio offer an alternative for this?
We are currently engaging with a major fast-food company in Nigeria that would like to replace their food packs with our products because they want to be seen as a green, friendly company. We are working on ensuring that our compostable food packs are robust enough to hold oily content such as stews and soups without leaking. These are the factors one must consider in creating solutions that work for the end-user. Our packs have proven effective in the Western world where they were used for burgers and other dry food products, but we must be able to guarantee that they work for our foods here as well.
How costly are these alternatives?
This has always been the question on everybody’s lips. We need to ask ourselves what the cost to the environment is. The world is on the brink of a reset. What BonnieBio is bringing in is a new technology that has the potential to help save the planet at prices that will be beneficial to everybody. If you are trying to save the planet, no price is too much for that.
Nigeria uses 32 million tons of plastic a day and with the population projected to double by 2050, the country will be dealing with a lot more. Take Lagos as an example: with a population of 20 million, by 2050 that doubles up to about 40 million people living in the state. I don’t think our front-line field would be enough to sustain the daily waste coming out by 2050.
The prices of our products are 4 to 5 times cheaper than we sell them in foreign countries because we have taken into account the poverty rate in Nigeria.
What is the role of the government in addressing this problem?
The state government needs to encourage supermarkets to start charging for these bags, which will not only open alternative applications. This means small and medium scale enterprises will start doing things like reusable bags.
We need to change people’s orientation. We need to go to primary schools, secondary schools and educate them about the difference between good and bad with regards to plastic pollution. We also need a lot of advertisements and programs that talk about environmental impact and the little things citizens can do to make a change.
Tell us more about the vision and mission of BonnieBio
Our mission is to drive the phase-out of single-use plastics in the Nigerian market and usher in an era of environmentally friendly products. Our vision is to become the most widely sought-after brand for compostable alternatives in Nigeria. Our core values are environmental preservation, innovation and sanitation. We believe now is the time for Nigeria to wake up and strive to resolve the issue of single-use plastic in the country.