Styrofoam Ban: Lagos Is In Great Company But…

The government can also tax those products – to discourage merchants and manufacturers from dealing – on one hand, and like Rwanda did years ago, give tax breaks and other incentives to companies ready to recycle, on the other hand.

Plastics waste in Lagos State / Photo credit: Punch
Plastics waste in Lagos State / Photo credit: Punch

A popular video circulated the Nigerian Social media circles last week.

In the said video a gentleman excitedly retold the news of the Lagos State Styrofoam ban.

With the number of shares and re-shares in different platforms, it’s obvious that the gentleman is not alone.

It’s understandable though in a country like Nigeria that appears to lack a coordinated and working policy on plastics waste management, especially the single use plastics under which category the now unpopular Styrofoam falls.

A recent World Bank report doesn’t only place Nigeria as the 10th largest producer of plastics waste in the world, it also says that the country, by 2050 – that’s in 26 years- will generate the most plastics waste in Africa.

But it hasn’t been for lack of efforts and initiatives.

The closest and perhaps, boldest was in 2019 when the Nigerian House of Representatives passed a bill to prohibit the importation, manufacture and use of plastic bags in the country.

The Bill which was known as the Plastic Bag Prohibition Bill was introduced by Hon. Sergios Ogun representing the Esan North-East/Esan South-East in Edo State.

The bill was not signed into law though.

A year after, the government approved a plastics management policy that is meant to ensure the sustainable use of plastics through its entire life cycle.

In 2021, the country became a part of an initiative of the World Economic Forum, the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP), meant to address the issues of plastics pollution in Africa.

Just two years ago, the ministry of environment commenced a $1.9m project on sustainable use of plastics. The project will end in 2025 and is supported by United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

But like most things in this country, while all these initiatives might truly exist on my paper, they haven’t translated to any reduction in plastics pollution in the country.

So it should be a good thing that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State has decided that it’s enough, at least for his immediate environment.

And the state is in great company as it joins more than 70 other countries, 22 of them members of the European Union like Germany, Sweden and Luxembourg, that have banned single-use plastics.

Haiti, the first to take this step did so in 2012.

It should have been the entire country taking this step, because you only need to visit any of our major cities’ streets after every heavy rainfall to understand the menace these plastics have become.

But it’s obvious that the Lagos State government could no longer wait for Abuja on this matter, not with the volume of unmanaged waste that come from these plastics daily.

The commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, Mr. Tokunbo Wahab, had said the decision was reached following the hazard that single-use plastics, especially the non-biodegradable Styrofoam, had become for the environment.

And so you would wonder why not everyone is pumping their fists in the air in celebration.

That’s simply because Nigerian leaders have over years mastered the art doing the right thing at the wrong time, and for the wrong reasons too.

Many of us are still reeling from the shock the Naira Redesign backstory gave us and how far our politicians can go to pull wool over our eyes when it comes to furthering their personal agenda, hiding behind ostensible public interest driven change.

Not that there would ever have been the perfect time for any change of this nature and scope.

For instance, when Zimbabweans protested the ban in 2017, the spokesman of the country’s Environmental Management Agency, Steady Kangata, reminded them that brought the ban regulation dated back to 2012 and that the required consultations had been duly made, and adequate awareness created during the five-year period.

In the case of the Lagos State ban however, one can’t help but feel that the state should have invested more in leading a sustainable change in this regard before announcement and the inevitable enforcement.

There is a major reason single-use plastic such as Styrofoam are popular; they are cheap.

Those in food packaging and sales industry are able to reach even the lowest income earners because they can afford them.

The first step should have been to research and develop other cheap alternatives that are more environmentally friendly.

This could take years but it would be more sustainable for both businesses and consumers in the long term.

Bamboo is one of such. It’s fast growing, and also eco-friendly.

The state government can partner with the private sector to explore Bamboo as a viable option for packing food, and even for cups, cutleries and plates.

The second would be to create awareness on the threat single use plastics pose to us all, and ways we can collectively do better.

This would be the time for consultations with the different stakeholders.

Then comes a timeline for phased withdrawal from the system before total ban. And a lot could take place between the first step and when the hammer finally comes down.

For instance, shops could be encouraged to stop handing out free plastic bags to shoppers at check out like it’s done in most European countries, where the thought of paying for plastic bags at each groceries shopping encourages most people to invest in more durable and less environmentally-hostile shopping bags.

The government can also tax those products – to discourage merchants and manufacturers from dealing – on one hand, and like Rwanda did years ago, give tax breaks and other incentives to companies ready to recycle, on the other hand.

The aim shouldn’t be to kill businesses or make life more difficult for entrepreneurs but rather to protect the environment.

But it would require a government not stuck in the customary culture of moving files from one office to another in the name governance.

It’s about saving our environment and at the same time keeping enterprise alive.

And governor Sanwo-Olu should know that.

He should avoid creating yet another corruption channel in the name of enforcement of a ban not properly planned.

The masses are traumatised and impoverished enough as it is.

Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe

Written by Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe

Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe is the Editor of TheInterview Abuja. She's worked as a journalist at The Punch Newspapers and also The LEADERSHIP Newspapers, where she rose to become the Editorial Director.