World Earth Day: Time for a new engagement with plastics

April 22, every year allows the world an opportunity to reflect on how human activities is affecting the planet. This year, leaders across the world voiced solidarity over protection and preservation of the earth, with emphasis on reduction of plastic use and adopting a sustainable lifestyle.

Earth Day was first celebrated in the United States in 1970, the idea of commemorating such a day was proposed by Gaylord Nelson, a US senator from Wisconsin. Nelson, had witnessed the devastation caused by an enormous oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969 and felt a need to change the situation.

It is important that this year’s theme focuses on plastics, one of the products from crude oil refining process.  This is because it constitutes a serious threat to the planet’s marine life. Scientists say plastics can take over 500 years to be degraded. The energy sector is seen as one of the world’s most polluting industries with activities such as gas flaring and oil spills wreaking havoc on the planet.

According to Earth Day Network, this year’s Earth Day is dedicated to spreading awareness about the pollution caused by plastic and the need to eventually end its use. The Earth Day went global by the 1990s and is now celebrated by at least 192 countries.

The organisers this year, have been providing information and inspiration needed to fundamentally change human attitude and behavior about plastics.

The campaign is leading a grassroots movement to support the adoption of a global framework to regulate plastic pollution; educating, mobilising and activating citizens across the globe to demand that governments and corporations control and clean up plastic pollution.

It is also striving to educate people worldwide to take personal responsibility for plastic pollution by choosing to reject, reduce, reuse and recycle plastics, and promote local government regulatory and other efforts to tackle plastic pollution.

Around the world, over 40 countries have restricted, banned, or taxed the use of plastic bags. Rwanda, stands proudly as the most successful. A new visitor to this remarkable African country, at the Kigali airport is greeted with a large sign reading, “Use of non-biodegradable polythene bags is prohibited”. By 2020, Rwanda hopes to become plastic free.

Meanwhile, Africa’s biggest economy is yet to articulate a sensible policy on managing wastes from the energy sector. Nigeria currently flares 700MMscf/d of gas at 178 flare sites across the country. This is equivalent to the amount of gas it currently uses in power production.

Every month, the state-owned oil firm, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) releases figures for oil spills, some are the activities of vandals, others are operational faults from oil companies. Insane volumes of plastics are manufactured, consumed and disposed with little regulation in Nigeria.

This is not surprising or unexpected; excellence is rarely regarded as moral precept in the country and policy makers, it seems, benchmark against mediocrity. Excessive use of plastics is having a detrimental effect on the country, blocking drainages and exacerbating flooding, yet there is no conscious attempt to educate the populace about its dangers.

On the occasion of this year’s Earth Day, there were not many activities to mark the event. Half the cabinet is junketing in the United States and the United Kingdom and safe for some international organisations, it went barely unnoticed.

Nigeria has not demonstrated enough seriousness to tackle the environmental challenges from its economic activities. To build a sustainable future, the country must go beyond symbolic days to make speeches about issues but there needs to be a holistic articulation of the issues and pragmatic policy to tackle the challenges.


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