• Saturday, June 22, 2024
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Education…The sustainable solution to the waste crisis

Education…The sustainable solution to the waste crisis

By Olanrewaju Oniyitan

Mrs Olufunmbi is the proprietor of Street to School Academy, a low-fee private school in the heart of Amukoko in Lagos, where she charges N100/day (about $0.07) as school fees. In her community, with over 500,000 residents, the average earnings per family (with two income-earning adults) are less than N60,000 per month (about $40.05). Each family has about 3–5 children. Her school is an option for many children in her immediate community.

On November 13, 2023, she received a circular for all private school associations in Lagos State informing them about the introduction of recyclable (blue) bins by LAWMA (Lagos Waste Management Authority). The circular, which was sent by the Office of Education Quality Assurance, Lagos State Ministry of Education, indicated “mandatory compliance” by all private schools in Lagos State. While many middle- and high-fee private schools have complied, schools like Street to School Academy, which serves children from low-income communities, have not been able to purchase the bin.

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Nigeria faces a huge waste management challenge. According to the World Bank, Nigeria generates at least 32 million metric tonnes of solid waste annually, and this number is projected to rise to 107 million metric tonnes by 2050. With 2.5 million metric tonnes of plastic waste generated annually, Nigeria is the ninth-highest contributor to plastic pollution. Only 20 percent to 30 percent of the waste generated is efficiently collected and disposed of. This solid waste is typically gathered in heaps, abandoned by highways and street corners, indiscriminately burned, ending up in open drains and nearby streams and water channels, littering streets and clogging drainage channels, and emitting greenhouse gases, causing harm to humans, animals, and the environment. The menace that single-use plastics, especially non-biodegradable Styrofoam, are causing to the environment led to its ban by the Hon. Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources, Tokunbo Wahab, on January 22, 2024.

Amidst the vibrancy of daily life in Lagos State, particularly in low-income communities like Amukoko, where Street to School Academy is located, lies a pressing issue that is impossible to ignore: waste management. With Lagos moving to the 2-bin system (green and blue), you simply sort your waste and drop all recyclable items like cans, plastic, cartons, water sachets, etc. in the blue bin, while you drop the general waste in the green bin. The PSP operators empty the green bins, while the recyclers come around for the blue bins, containing the recyclable items, which are weighed and recorded, until you are ready for redemption in cash or kind. The purpose of the colour-coded waste bins by LAWMA is to simplify the process of waste management from the source.

Among the several benefits of standard bins are: safe containerisation of waste; easy evacuation; reduction in the harmful activities of pests; as well as reduced city flooding, among others. Waste management has gone beyond just picking up refuse and dumping it in the landfills, which are currently overstretched, to consider the huge volumes of waste being generated in Lagos on a daily basis.

The blue bin initiative and the strategy of including all schools are laudable. The state government did well by purchasing the bins for public schools, and many private organisations are also supporting them. However, the mandatory purchase of the LAWMA-branded bins from a single supplier at a fixed stipulated cost plus a one-time full payment of N50,000 (about $33.38) based on the circular is not working for low-fee private schools.

Despite on-going sensitization by LAWMA, these low-fee private schools still perceive this as an unnecessary fee, compounding the already harsh operating environment. The usual ideological response from stakeholders comes to play again: that because most low-fee private schools are funded by tuition fees (albeit low), they must be able to pay for the blue bin. These schools are still struggling to pay for rent, teachers, learning resources, and taxes, amongst other expenses, and this comes as an additional burden.

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It is estimated that there are over 15,000 low-fee private schools in Lagos State, mostly in low-income communities, with these waste challenges. Let us imagine the power of supporting these low-fee private schools as hubs of waste education. It is incredibly important for us to teach our children from a young age about recycling and sustainability and the huge role that they play in our future. Imagine the huge positive social impact as the message cascades down from these schools to children, parents, businesses, and the wider community.

At the onset of a recent training held by the SEED Care & Support Foundation on the topic “Plastic and the Planet,” 0 percent of school owners and leaders were interested in purchasing the LAWMA Recyclable (Blue) Bin. However, after the training, 100 percent of them indicated they understood the importance of protecting the environment and could now link this to the need for the bin in their schools, especially as a learning resource. However, the acquisition model of the bins from the government was their major challenge.

It is clear that stakeholder education and engagement at scale, not just sensitization, are critical for the success of this initiative. While there are other fundamental challenges like the size of the bins, reaching rural communities like Badagry by recyclers, and schools already earning from recyclables, there is a critical need for the government, private sector, and foundations to work together to support these schools in deploying these bins for the benefit of the entire society.

Olanrewaju Oniyitan is the Executive Director of SEED Care & Support Foundation, a non-profit that supports the affordable non-state education sector to deliver access to quality education for all children by providing advocacy, evidence and a learning network. www.seedfoundation.ng. She is also the CEO of W-Holistic Business Solutions, a development advisory firm. www.w-hbs.com.