Nature creates, regenerates, heals, recycles, and thus, abhors vacuum or waste. This natural process is designed to take care of itself such that everything in nature is usable for other purposes. Like a machine, nature takes different lengths of time to convert and use everything for other purposes. While “wasted-food” and dead-plants become manure in 5days, discarded plastics and metals gradually form industrial minerals in about 500years. However, instead of waiting for nature’s lengthy period of converting waste for other uses, humans help its conversion with scientific methods. Hence, with proper use of scientific methods, Nigerians can gain a lot from proper waste management, known as recycling.
After it was published that Indians and Lebanese pick money on Nigerian streets, many Nigerians rushed the article to start picking money too. Despite the initial enthusiasm for earning by recycling wastes into useful items, Nigerians have not made significant success in recycling. Nigerians still battle with waste-mismanagement which leads to dirty streets, blocked drainages, air and water pollution among other hazards. Contrarily, the Indians, whose recycling testimonies motivated Nigerian entrepreneurs, have mega recycling factories in Nigeria, mostly for metals. Even the Netherlands presently import wastes for running their Material Recovery Facility (MRF), bio digesters and other waste-to-energy-machines.
Definition and proper process of waste-management
Waste is defined as materials that are no longer needed and are thrown away. Wastes are divided between biodegradable/perishable wastes that decay quickly, and non-biodegradable wastes that require industrial processes for conversion. Both perishable wastes that decay naturally and the non-perishable wastes that require industrial processes of conversion (chemical or mechanical) emanate from homes, industries, offices and markets.
Advanced societies manage these wastes by separating them according to their types for onward productivity in agriculture or industry. Hence, WASTE MANAGEMENT may be defined as the process of using wastes according to their nature for producing useful items in the society. The value-chain for waste-management includes waste-producers, waste-pickers (scavengers), recycling hubs, isolated recycling machines, energy, upcycling, recycling and production. By engaging in proper waste-management, organized societies obtain cheap raw-materials for producing what they need. Some Asian countries now add used polyethylene bags and plastics in making coal-tar for building roads.
Situation of waste-management in Nigeria
Regrettably, there is an enormous waste of opportunity for creating wealth and employment in Nigeria’s style of waste management. Presently, Nigeria’s waste management focuses on collecting and dumping unseparated (perishable and non-perishable) wastes in gully environments as landfilling. Homes, offices and markets eagerly dump wastes on the road without separating them between perishable and non-perishable for easy recycling. Few scavengers scuttle in dirty attires and unsafe manners to gather some non-perishable wastes like plastic bottles and metals. Yet, less than 40% of non-biodegradable wastes are recovered and recycled, since only few manufacturing industries operate to require these wastes for production. The Indians and Lebanese come, set up factories in Lagos, recycle a little and export the rest to their country for further processing. Facing this frustrating situation, Nigerian entrepreneurs sell off gathered materials to foreigners at give-away prices to remain in business. Thus, Nigerian entrepreneurs are reduced to scavengers who gather raw-materials for foreign manufacturers and producers.
Causes of improper waste-management in Nigeria
British colonialists created Nigeria by brutally binding several unconsented kingdoms and communities under a militarized government for exploiting mineral resources. After independence, the Europe-trained indigenes replaced the colonialists to seize and cheaply auction various peoples’ mineral resources to former colonialists. As compensation, the federal government creates arbitrary states, local governments and ministries for sharing insufficient foreign goods and services. Following the confiscation of resources for production, Nigerians import almost everything, instead of using their resources to produce useful commodities. Hence, majority of non-perishable wastes in Nigeria come from imported commodities which go back to the foreign producers.
Nigeria was not created to be industrially productive, but to supply raw materials to industrialist nations and former colonialists. Since Nigeria was not created for productivity and progress, almost all social factors stand against recycling waste for productivity in Nigeria. Alienated education, import-based government, insufficient electricity and absence of supporting industries are few of the obstacles to recycling in Nigeria. Some Nigerian engineers who try to design mechanical recycling machines end up importing most or all the machines for recycling. Due to the isolated machines’ need for electricity, one needs about 100 KVA generators and above. Moreover, by the time you calculate the cost and when to break even, relying on the unstable power supply in Nigeria becomes the better evil.
Creating an atmosphere leading to proper waste-management in Nigeria
Improving the system of waste-management in Nigeria may not be possible without reordering Nigeria for scientific and modern productivity. For only a productive Nigeria will value wastes as raw materials for further production and strengthen the value-chain in waste-management. In a production-structured Nigeria, each section of the value-chain can provide sustenance for many small and medium sized enterprise (SME’s). Hence, a sincere government may begin with reordering Nigeria for productivity and progress into proper waste-management by:
- Conducting a social research to ascertain and acknowledge the different Nigeria’s peoples and their respective lands and resources.
- Organizing intercommunal conferences among sections and groups towards a national conference for Nigerians to agree on their mode of partnership. Hence, constitutional decisions and laws will reflect the people’s beliefs and agreement for a better partnership.
- Inviting specialists to train the people on how to process their local resources for more industrial production. Then releasing the people’s resources for industrial productivity and eventual tax-payment to the central government. This will encourage the government to protect the people’s productivity for better tax-returns, and encourage citizens to become productive. A productive people with active industries will value non-biodegradable wastes as raw-material.
The direct process of enabling proper waste-management will then include:
- Enabling creation of material recovery facilities (MRF) and recycling annex for processing the wastes
- Encouraging research in schools to learn, experiment and discover newer methods and uses of wastes.
- Using social media and other means of communication to educate Nigerians on the need for waste-management. Families will learn to separate their wastes according to their nature for eventual disposing. Our actions have ripple effect on us: the plastic you dispose at the drainage beside your house can end up in the river or ocean, eaten by fish and the fish can be staple food for dinner someday and you eat the plastic through the fish, thereby preparing yourself for cancer.
- Synchronizing the ministry of environment and the National Environment Standards Regulatory and Enforcement Agency (NESREA) to regulate the process of collecting wastes for recycling and extended producers’ responsibility (EPR).
The crude ways of managing wastes in Nigeria are not sustainable, and are inimical to environmental health. Anthropogenic climate changes and erosions can be prevented if we act right, and sustainable production and consumption can reduce environmental pollutions. There is hope because we can always do something about the environmental problems facing humanity, whether rich or poor. Everyone can dispose correctly instead of disposing waste indiscriminately on the road, and everyone can separate waste at home. The good news is, there are many buyback businessmen and women moving around with carts and tricycles collecting recyclables. Even if not doing them for little cash, we can dispose wastes properly to feel good as responsible human beings.
The final point is to begin from where you are, do something today about waste management.
By Cajetan Okeke.
 Pieter Van den Brand, “Netherlands imports more waste,” waste forum (September 2011) https://www.wastematters.eu/…/DWMA_wasteforum_Netherland
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