By Kenneth Jukpor
Despite having numerous government agencies responsible for Nigerian waters, the marine life and bio-diversity in the nation have come under serious threats with the alarming level of plastic pollution and marine litters which has seen the country rated second in Africa on marine pollution chart, according to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
According to a report on Business Day, about 90 percent of ocean plastic waste originates from Asia and Africa can be traced to just 10 rivers, including River Niger, largely due to poor management of waste.
In Nigeria, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) plays a role in keeping the inland waterways clean, while state governments with coastal areas also have respective waterways Authorities.
As part of efforts to tackle pollution at sea and preserve marine resources, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), an organ of the United Nations, saddled with the responsibility of regulating shipping activities globally, developed series of conventions that must be followed by maritime nations in order to ensure safe navigation of vessels and security of cargoes on international and local waters.
These include the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL); the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and other Matter (London Convention), 1972, among others.
Beyond domesticating the relevant conventions of the MARPOL Convention to enable it manage and control pollution at sea, NIMASA agency took a massive step with the launch of a Maritime Action Plan on Marine Litter and Plastic (MAP-ML+P) Management in Nigeria, last week.
However, the menace of marine litters and plastics has seen the Nigerian Senate and Ministry of Environment initiate plans to develop a holistic bill to regulate plastic waste in Nigeria plastic which amounts to 2.5 million tons annually.
Speaking with MMS Plus at the sidelines of event, Senator Tolu Odebiyi who represented the Chairman, Senate Committee on Marine Transport, Senator Danjuma Goje, observed that the Senate had pondered on the possibility to creating an Environment Cleaning Fund.
He opined that major manufacturing companies responsible for production of plastics which end up in the seas should be mandated to sponsor the fund that could be used to clean up the environment and support activities of recycling plants.
“I put up a bill to prohibit the proliferation of plastics that have become very harmful to the environment. We want a bill to place this responsibility on the manufacturers by penalizing them or via surcharges or ensuring they have comprehensive plans for the plastics that we agree to.”
“We must take responsibility for these plastics which end up in the marine environment. The Federal Government shouldn’t continue spending huge revenue to clean the gutters and waterways while some companies walk away with billions as profit”, he said.
According to him, there must be a balance between the top manufacturers who produce products that litter the environment and eco-friendly investors in recycling activities.
“Look at the irony of the plastic situation, some companies are making billions as profit while they manufacture products that litter the environment while other companies are doing the commendable job of clean-up and recycling, yet they make peanuts as profit”, he said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Environment called for inter-agency collaboration among all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) at Federal and State government levels, and encouraged private companies to deepen their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to tackle the menace.
The Minister of State for Environment, Barr. (Mrs.) Sharon Ikeazor made this plea, even as she noted that the plastic waste could be channeled into wealth creation and employment for the teeming Nigerian youth via recycling.
According to her, Nigeria doesn’t lack laws, policies or regulations to address the proliferation of plastics and other items that become marine litters.
“What we lack is the will to do the implementation. We have policies but these are just intents until we legislate. The Ministry of Environment already has a policy on waste management and the issue of plastics is something that has come and we are working with stakeholders to address this.”
“There is a group known as Food and Beverage Recycling Alliance (FBRA). It is a team of responsible companies united by a shared concern for the environment, driving a self-regulatory post-consumer packaging waste recovery within the food and beverage sector. When I came into the Ministry, they were one of the first set of people I met. This shows high sense of CSR,” she said.
“After observing the good work NIMASA is doing to rid the waters of the enormous plastic litters, I asked myself – where did all the plastic litters go? The Ministry of Environment is coming up with more recycling plants and we can’t do it alone. I would like NIMASA to partner with us as well as the private sector on this” she added.
The basic idea of recycling is not new to Nigerians, in many ways its long been a way of life particularly for retail dealers. For example, peanuts are commonly sold in old wine bottles and plastic water bottles are reused to sell palm oil and other liquids.
Recycling should be more than a side benefit to the challenge of plastic waste.
Plastic recycling is the process of recovering different types of plastic material in order to reprocess them into varied other products, unlike their original form. An item made out of plastic is recycled into a different product, which usually cannot be recycled again.
Stages in Plastic Recycling
Before any plastic waste is recycled, it needs to go through five different stages so that it can be further used for making various types of products.
Sorting: It is necessary that every plastic item is separated according to its make and type so that it can be processed accordingly in the shredding machine.
Washing: Once the sorting has been done, the plastic waste needs to be washed properly to remove impurities such as labels and adhesives. This enhances the quality of the finished product.
Shredding: After washing, the plastic waste is loaded into different conveyer belts that run the waste through the different shredders. These shredders tear up the plastic into small pellets, preparing them for recycling into other products.
Identification and Classification of Plastic: After shredding, a proper testing of the plastic pellets is conducted in order to ascertain their quality and class.
Extruding: This involves melting the shredded plastic so that it can be extruded into pellets, which are then used for making different types of plastic products.
Processes of Plastic Recycling
Among the many processes of recycling plastic waste, the following two are the most popular in the industry.
This type of plastic recycling is gaining special demand in the United States, Australia, and Japan because of its ability to recycle all types of plastic at once. It takes unsorted and cleaned plastic waste and mixes it in huge tumblers that churn the entire mixture. The major advantage of this process is that it does not require matching forms of plastic to be recycled together.
Through the elaborate and accurate monomer recycling process, major challenges of plastic recycling can be overcome. This process actually reverses the polymerization reaction in order to recycle the same type of condensed polymer. This process not only purifies but also cleans the plastic waste to create a new polymer.
Benefits of Plastic Recycling
After knowing the processes and stages of plastic recycling, it is also important to know its various benefits. A few of them are:
There’s A Ton of Plastic:
One of the biggest reasons for recycling plastic is its huge quantity. It has been observed that 90% of the waste accumulated by the municipal corporation is a plastic waste. Apart from this, plastic is used for manufacturing various types of goods and items that are being used on a daily basis. This will not only help increase the production of plastic but will also take care of the environment.
Conservation of Energy and Natural Resources:
The recycling of plastic helps save a lot of energy and natural resources as these are the main ingredients required for making virgin plastic. Saving petroleum, water, and other natural resources help conserve the balance in nature.
Clears Landfill Space:
Plastic waste is accumulated on land that should be used for other purposes. The only way this plastic waste can be removed from these areas is by recycling it. Also, various experiments have proven that when another waste material is thrown on the same ground as plastic waste, it decomposes faster and emits hazardous toxic fumes after a certain period. These fumes are extremely harmful to the surrounding area as they can cause different types of lung and skin diseases.
Plastic recycling not only promotes proper utilization of plastic waste but also helps conserve the environment, making it cleaner and greener.
“It is well known that of 260 million tons of plastic produced in the world each year, about 10% ends up in the ocean and 70% of the mass eventually sinks, damaging life on the seabed. It is estimated that over 200,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste from land-based sources in Nigeria, is discharged into the Atlantic Ocean each year”, the NIMASA Director General stated last week.
He revealed the interventions made by NIMASA against Marine Litter and Plastics to include; engagement of Marine Litter Marshals across coastal communities and littoral areas as a pilot scheme, cleanup of identified Marine Litter Hotspots in Nigeria’s coastal states of Bayelsa, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta, Ondo and Lagos, marine litter sensitization campaign in over 500 littoral communities, provision of necessary waste receptacles to some coastal communities, among others.