A constant question I have received as a youth activist falls along the lines of “What is all this craze about environmental conservation, Net-Zero goals, and the color green? It doesn’t affect my life so why should I care?”
But look at our streets, clogged with plastic bags and styrofoam remnants, breeding grounds for disease and a disgrace on our landscape. Our drainage systems choke, our waterways suffocate, and marine life ingests these toxins, ultimately poisoning the food chain that sustains us. The economic cost is no less staggering, with billions spent on managing plastic waste, money that could be invested in our people, development and infrastructure. The natural beauty of our nation’s biome has failed to be revived as we continuously pollute and disregard and destroy the very land that has protected us for centuries.
This reality that every Nigerian has witnessed began looking brighter and more hopeful as news of a Styrofoam ban circulated. I was able to begin envisioning a time when our society would reclaim our natural world and create a sustainable future for the next generations. And then on January 21st, 2024, the Lagos State Government officially banned single-use plastics and Styrofoam production.
This exemplary step to impose such a ban declared to the world that Lagos State had the grit and determination to reduce its negative environmental impact. Environmental Conservationists and citizens all across the nation supported and commended this firm stand taken by the government. Sadly, this decision faced pushback and community revolt, leading to its delay and premature celebration. Today, let us delve deeper into the importance of this environmental law, learn from global successes, and discover alternatives that can help us transition toward a more sustainable future.
Nations in Africa and across the world are uniting against the menace of single-use plastics and Styrofoam. The world has begun believing in and supporting ‘A change in our habits and policies’ as a solution to climate change For example, Kenya’s strict ban on single-use plastics reduced plastic pollution by 80% within months, leading to cleaner waterways and reviving tourism. Every citizen who has witnessed their nation evolve boasts of cleaner streets, less polluted rivers, dramatically improved health, and a restoration of marine life. Most importantly, every single country that has pioneered its version of this law has revealed to us how adaptable entire economies can be to such policy shifts. The world has set an example for us; what is stopping Nigeria from fully accepting and adopting this great change?
Polystyrene is slow to degrade (taking up to 500 years to decompose), and if disposed of improperly, the foam can leach chemicals into the environment harming water sources. Polystyrene manufacturing is an enormous creator of hazardous waste. Furthermore, polystyrene manufacturing greatly contributes to climate change, infiltrating our water sources and releasing harmful greenhouse gasses.
The benefits of banning single-use plastics and Styrofoam are monumental. By taking this step, we can significantly reduce the pollution that clogs our streets and threatens our ecosystems. The benefits are evident. However, how can we properly prepare ourselves for this needed policy and the more that are likely to come?
I understand that many of us rely on single-use plastics and Styrofoam in our daily lives. However, alternatives are within reach. Stainless steel, glass, or durable plastic containers can replace disposable items. Cloth bags and baskets can be our companions for shopping trips, while biodegradable packaging materials provide a sustainable option for street food purchases. These changes may seem small, but they collectively create a significant impact – removing styrofoam and plastic waste from our nation one choice at a time.
Humans are impressively renowned for their ability to adapt and innovate. We live in a society that continuously pioneers new inventions especially when they are needed the most. Humanity is burdened with the need to evolve from our reliance on single-use plastic and styrofoam. Nigeria is on the climate pedestal at such an important time in our history.
Though the initial ban delay may have left us disheartened, it is crucial to remember that positive change often encounters resistance. Other nations have shown us that with unwavering determination and effective education, the benefits of such a ban far outweigh any inconveniences it might bring. Nigeria’s journey towards environmental responsibility is far from over. The delay in Lagos State is not denial, and I hope that the Federal Government will soon adopt a nationwide ban to ensure a cleaner, healthier future for all.
Determined Nigerians have created alternatives that are waiting to be embraced. Biodegradable packaging made from recycled paper, cassava starch, and bamboo is readily from local entrepreneurs including: ‘Bonniebio Technology Nigeria’, ‘TPPC’, ‘Insignia’, ‘Paper bags by Ebees’ and many more. If we invest more money and time into developing and scaling sustainable packaging options we can create new jobs and foster a sustainable economy. The initial shift may require effort, but the long-term gains – cleaner streets, healthier communities, a mobilized younger generation and a thriving green economy – far outweigh the temporary discomfort.
To those who fear hardship, I urge you to – stand, not in resistance, but in innovation. Let us support the development of local, sustainable alternatives. Let us educate our communities about the dangers of plastic and empower them to embrace change. This is not a burden, but an opportunity – a chance to build a Nigeria that is prosperous, healthy, and a beacon of environmental stewardship. Our land has the potential to be restored to its original beauty and natural rich diversity. Very soon, Nigerians will be able to say, as Steve Jobs once said – “We did the impossible because we did not know it was impossible!”
Amarachi Nwuneli is a 16-year-old activist, social innovator, and founder of Preserve Our Roots, an NGO and social movement that raises awareness about climate change through interactive workshops, informational videos, and local initiatives. She has served as a youth representative at different Climate conferences, was chosen as an Ashoka youth changemaker, won the Co-Lab’s TeensDream Grant, and has written numerous published articles. She addresses inequality by leading Beach Clean-ups, fundraising for communities affected by climate change, running drives for government schools, and exposing herself to volunteer work. In December 2022, she published her first poetry book, For We Are Curious. She is the producer of the Climate Documentary: “The Heat of Change” (2023) and is working with various partners to convert dump sites into sustainable public parks all across Nigeria using recycled materials.