Microplastics

Sustain action on single-use plastics – Punch Newspapers

THE Federal Government has taken a giant step forward to combat the menace of plastics in the environment. In this, the Federal Executive Council recently approved a ban on single-use plastics, also known as on-the-go plastics. The ban covers all Federal Government ministries, agencies, and departments. This is a welcome initiative.

Iziaq Salako, the Minister of State for Environment, who briefed State House Correspondents after the FEC meeting, explained that the move aligns with the 2022 National Policy on Plastic Waste Management and demonstrates the government’s drive to address the threefold crisis of climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss.

Salako argued that the ban would reduce plastic waste, which he described as a significant contributor to flooding, ocean pollution, and diseases.

In Nigeria, single-use plastics and Styrofoam are widely used for food packaging, insulation, and other purposes. Non-biodegradable plastics are widely used in many developing economies. Styrofoam and non-biodegradable plastics are cheap, lightweight, and durable but constitute a danger to the environment.

The Federal Government has over 600 MDAs, employing millions of workers. With most of the MDAs based in the Federal Capital Territory, it should be easier to monitor compliance there.

It is agreed that Styrofoam and non-biodegradable plastics can provide thermal insulation and prevent heat loss or gain. This can save energy and improve the quality of food and beverages and with technology, they can be recycled and reused for other applications, such as building materials, furniture, and art.

However, Styrofoam and non-biodegradable plastics can take 500 years to decompose in landfills, where they occupy a large amount of space and release greenhouse gases. They contaminate the soil and groundwater with toxic chemicals. They litter the environment and harm wildlife and marine life. They are ingested by fish and animals and entangle livestock, causing injury or death. They can degrade into microplastics, which can enter the food chain and affect human health.

A new University of Miami research discovered microplastics in male reproductive organs for the first time in 2024. More than 80 per cent of marine litter is plastics.

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The disposal of these single-use plastics into canals has continued to contribute to the flooding situation in some flood-prone areas in the country.

So, the ban is well thought-out. It points to a healthier future and incentivises innovation and the adoption of sustainable alternatives.

Elsewhere, the European Union moved against single-use plastics in 2021. The EU banned single-use plastic plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks, and cotton buds in its member states. The EU said it applied the same measure to cups, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene, and all products made of oxo-degradable plastic.

So, this is an opportunity for Nigeria to explore local, natural, and healthy alternatives to polystyrene and single plastic bottles in food packaging. Paper, leaves, cans, bioplastics, and glass bottles are viable alternatives.

To achieve a sustainable environment and reverse the strain on the climate, the local, state, and federal governments should carry the citizens along as they enforce the ban on plastics.

In January, Lagos State became the first sub-national government to ban the use of Styrofoam and other single-use plastics in Nigeria. In defiance, some citizens still engage in its use. On Tuesday, the Lagos State Commissioner for the Environment, Tokunbo Wahab, said its team seized a large consignment of plastics at Ojuwoye Market in Mushin.

Abia State followed the lead of Lagos shortly after. In March, Oyo banned the use of polystyrene for food packaging in the state, citing its negative impact on the environment and being a factor for food poisoning. Anambra State will implement a ban on polystyrene shortly. Other states in Nigeria should join the crusade.