“Zero waste can be achieved in Nigeria but we need to deal with the fundamentals of waste management, which include sensitisation of the citizenry”
Proper management of waste is a big issue in many developing countries. Aside from advocating for reduction, reuse and recycling of waste materials, environmental experts say making producers responsible for the waste they produce is a step in the right direction.
Engr. Afolasade Nubi is an environmental engineer and coordinator for environmental management at the University of Lagos (Unilag). She spoke to Daily Sun recently on the possibility of achieving zero waste in Nigeria, the importance of recycling and what could be done to make recycling a norm for Nigerians.
What is the concept behind the University of Lagos Zero Waste initiative?
Unilag Zero Waste initiative is aimed at making University of Lagos sustainable in solid waste management by making sure 100 per cent of waste generated is recycled. It is recovering all possible resources from waste streams and producing no harmful waste to the environment, basically reducing our waste footprint. This concept started with having university management’s buy-in and approval. After the approval, sensitisation programmes began, well labelled coloured waste bins were deployed, waste management charges and sorting of recyclables were introduced.
What is the level of acceptance and compliance to this practice so far in the institution?
For every new idea, there will be the fear of the unknown for most stakeholders. We have identified that there will be a nurturing period for the idea in which you concentrate on sensitisation and community engagement. The university’s recycling programme has been on for the past four years with gradual participation of members of the university community. We have grown from initial recycling of 5.1 tons of PET waste bottles per month in 2014/2015 to 10.4 tons monthly in 2016/1017. We also sort paper, cans, iron and different types of plastics. With the university’s growing population, more sorting and recycling can be achieved.
With the improper waste disposal in most states, is it possible to achieve zero waste in Nigeria?
In Lagos, waste generation from domestic and commercial sources has grown significantly over the past decade, leading to a major concern. Despite several efforts by successive governments and private organisations, it is still not uncommon in the state today to see heaps of festering waste dumps in nooks and crannies. Zero waste can be achieved in Nigeria but, presently, we need to deal with the fundamentals of waste management, which include the education and sensitisation of the citizenry, increase waste collection frequency using appropriate methods, support for recycling, private sector participation, waste management charges, enforcement and monitoring.
Looking at how waste management is handled in developed world, what do you think is missing in Nigeria that promotes the indiscriminate waste disposal we are experiencing?
All developed countries grew from indiscriminate disposal of waste by citizens to sorting and proper use of waste bins; from use of dumpsite to the use of engineered landfill. So, Nigeria is in the process of getting waste management right. It is just essential that we have proper waste collection and disposal systems, adequate funding and investment in infrastructure, comprehensive legal framework and enforcement of the existing regulations, political will on the part of the leaders, data management and research and, most importantly, private sector participation.
Whose fault is it and how can we address indiscriminate waste disposal?
Waste management is a collective effort. The goals and desire must be shared by the society. Although an arm may take the lead while others follow, the task of moving waste management forward in Nigeria requires that the citizens and government share huge responsibilities.
READ ALSO: Shoprite plans Africa’s biggest clean-up
The government would have to show adequate commitment through people-centered waste policies. Embrace local content in the design of its operation, involve all strata of government and provide advocacy and incentives, where necessary. The citizen would have to be committed to law and activities guiding waste management, pay for value-added ideas and create entrepreneurial opportunities to integrate the younger generation.
Are there people or institutions already practicing the zero waste initiative?
Zero waste initiative first started as part of European Union policy for sustainability. It has now grown to be a global initiative for sustainable waste management. A lot of tertiary institutions in developed
countries have embraced this initiative as an institutional goal. In Nigeria, there are limited numbers of universities with the initiative, to the best of my knowledge.
What are your thoughts on extended producers responsibility (EPR)?
Firstly, extended producers responsibility is basically making producers either voluntarily or by mandatory regulations take responsibility for their product when they become waste, especially for the take-back, recycling and final disposal.
This can be explained as making manufacturers internalise the cost of recycling within the product price, where the cost of material recovery is passed to the consumer. EPR schemes can help to finance waste collection and recycling, depending on how the scheme is administered. In most developed countries, some companies are mandated to collect back their product after its end of life, especially e-waste.
For developing countries like Nigeria, we may begin with companies understanding that environmental management, especially waste management, can be a form of corporate social responsibility, whereby waste generating-producers/ companies buy back or create avenues to collect the waste back.
Does EPR play any role in averting indiscriminate waste disposal?
EPR might not stop indiscriminate waste disposal because improper waste disposal is done by citizens not the manufacturers of the products. An incentive, buy-back or proper recycling schemes, frequent collection and monitoring may help to reduce indiscriminate waste disposal.
In your opinion, are we practicing EPR in Nigeria? If not, what is the way forward?
Although National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency is making efforts to ensure full implementation of EPR in Nigeria, EPR is meant to help provide incentives for eco-designs, create sustainable production policies and develop the recycling sector.
The whole process is still at its infancy compared to the achievement of EPR in developed countries. Manufacturers’ and consumers’ understanding of the policy is low. Very strong advocacy would be needed to carry everyone along.
University of Lagos in 2017 was awarded by African Clean-Up Initiative as the Best Recycling Institution. Why is recycling important and what can be done to make it a nationwide practice?
Yes, the University of Lagos received the award for the Best Recycling Institution because of our recycling practices. Recycling is important because it reduces the volume of waste sent to the landfill or dump sites, creates jobs, saves energy, preserves natural resources and helps to prevent pollution.
Recycling can be a nationwide practice if value is given to waste. People need to see the resources and several opportunities within the waste industry. Government needs to create the enabling environment and infrastructure for recycling to thrive and also support the formal and informal sectors that are already making efforts to recycle.