Waste management and disposal in Nigeria is in a sorry state. From open-air burning of solid waste; to the dumping of refuse in dumpsters, landfills, drainage systems; to burying municipal household waste products, Nigeria has a waste management problem. There is no efficient system of waste management and disposal in the country, and it is one of the environmental hazards we have now.
In Nigeria, it is estimated that our urban cities produce 24 million metric tons of waste annually; Lagos generates at least 13,000 tons of waste monthly. This is a gargantuan amount of waste. Sadly, people rely mostly on the government for waste disposal; for those that live close to landfills and dumpsters, they dispose their waste by dumping them in these places. For those that live in rural areas, they either burn the refuse or bury them.
I believe that the most painful aspect of Nigeria’s ineffective waste management system is the fact that we do not utilize the reusable waste products. We use bottles, perfumes, alongside a whole lot of other materials, then, because there is little to no waste management system and recycling in place, we throw all of them away.
THE WASTE MANAGEMENT INDUSTRY
Waste Management services is over a $1 billion a year industry. Other countries recycle a lot of their waste; households generally group their waste products into biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. These are disposed of separately, with the reusable wastes going in for recycling. These are recycled and turned into end products that can benefit homes and industries. Old paper is recycled into brown paper; this is a far better alternative than felling down large trees in forests for the paper industry usage. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, most used paper is thrown away or burned, in large numbers. This constitutes a waste of valuable resources and adds to the degradation of the already degraded environment.
Learning to maximize waste management and recycling makes for neat cities. It makes for environmental preservation. That makes for efficiency.
A HEALTH HAZARD
Loose solid waste litter the urban areas in Nigeria. Every large town and city in Nigeria is littered with waste. Used satchets of water litter the roads and gutters; used tins and cans and other types of containers clatter along the road; the gutters are choked up with garbage. Reports say that poor waste management in Nigeria constitutes a serious health hazard.
Environmentally, this is unhealthy. I have seen a large gutter become a breeding ground for mosquitoes; the latter visit the nearest human inhabitants at night for their nightly feast. Many of these gutters become so piled up with waste, it becomes difficult for water to pass through during the rains.
The government also seems to be handicapped. The government-owned garbage disposal points in cities and towns are left to overfill for long periods of time before the government-owned vehicles come to clear them out. They fill up, and the cycle is repeated all over again.
Government Frameworks for Waste Management
It is true that government across the both the states and federal levels have regulatory frameworks in place to help tackle Nigeria’s waste management and disposal. However, in spite of these laws and frameworks, it is notorious that Nigerian governments are good at paper policies but have a hard time during the implementation and enforcement stages. There seems to be only so much they can do.
Furthermore, most Nigerians just don’t care if there are policies and frameworks in place. A typical Nigerian adult will be uncomfortable paying the government ₦500.00 monthly and yet have to wait for weeks before the government agencies can come to clear out the waste. They’d rather use the landfills and gutters. This compounds the already terrible problem as waste is dumped in flood beds and along water ways; thus, during the rains, the water overflows their constructed channels and run amok on the road and into people’s homes, wrecking damage. Many roads become littered with debris which were improperly disposed.
A WAY OUT OF WASTE MANAGEMENT INEFFICIENCY
The organized Private Sector should come in to handle Waste management and disposal across Nigeria. I believe that their work doesn’t end with merely collecting and disposing of garbage. In this area, of course some enterprising individuals have set up shop and dispose waste for some neighborhoods in Lagos. But that is not the focus; the focus here is on clean recycling.
Recently, I packed a carton filled with garbage [most of them are recyclable] to head for the nearest landfill. A young man–an alimi man–stopped me and cleared out almost the entire contents of the carton because I was going to dispose of mostly reusable waste. I thought: what if there was a great waste management company in Lagos that collects all these for recycling in plants? Then they’re reused in production, or converted into other products entirely. ..
THE INFORMAL SECTOR
Go to any refuse landfill or garbage point in any of the towns in Nigeria and you will see men–both young and old–with large sacks, foraging in the garbage, collecting usable waste and scrap metal. They fill these large sacks with empty plastic water cans, tins, and other usable paraphernalia, then cart them off for sale. They do these on a daily basis; some even pick along the streets and the overfilling gutters. For ordinary residents, their work is done when they dump their solid waste in waste disposal landfills and gutters, but for these [informal] waste management workers, it is business as usual. They have to make their living.
AN INCENTIVE DURING THE WASTE RECALL PROCESS
Nigerians love value. We love receiving something for something, no matter how small it may appear. Imagine if a waste management company was set up within one of the metropolitan areas of Lagos. Let’s say too, that this waste management company has a “reward” policy whereby Lagos garbage owners are compensated for packing their reusable waste and giving these wastes to that company [which may merely constitute bottles of wine and other drinks, cans, tins, plastic containers and other types of wastes that fall into this category]. The waste management and recycling company will then treat these materials and transmit them to industries and factories and the manufacturers that need them all over the country.
Imagine the waste management company making their rounds on specific days of the week across neighborhoods in the areas where their operations cover, calling for bags of recyclable wastes, weighing them, then handing out rewards to residents of these neighborhoods.
Should something like this be implemented on a larger scale, then people will take it upon themselves to rid the streets of waste by hunting down the reusable waste and packing them up for rewards. This will make waste management and recycling easier. This will keep the company in business. This will ultimately keep the streets clean.
Nigerians don’t care about waste and its proper disposal. Programs and threats, deter no one. The right incentives and the inclusion of the Private Sector on a large scale can help. For foreign companies and expatriates looking to invest in Africa, Waste Management & Recycling is ripe for the picking, as Nigerians have a solid waste management problem. Furthermore, as we don’t have a Waste Management Strategy in place to help handle the waste and recycle them for usage by the different industries, any company that can come in to claim the Waste we generate in Nigeria, is guaranteed a good ROI. All that’s needed is proper planning and strategy in place to set the ball rolling.
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