Critical Conversations

Environmental Degradation: Questions for Guilty Brands

The use of non-biodegradable materials such as plastic has remained a source of concern across the world. With an increasing global population and undeniable climate change, the plastic onslaught on the environment is causing unprecedented threats to human existence.

Plastic has remained a popular material for casing and handling because it is flexible, lightweight, and strong. That makes it ideal for almost all types of packaging by different brands. It is also commonly used in clothing and single-use items such as straws. Regrettably, the preponderance of this material has become the biggest headache today in most developing countries as they constitute over 70 per cent of waste materials in drainages, riverbanks, and waterways. With their embarrassing presence are thousands of brands where these materials originated from. What efforts are they making to recover those non-biodegradable by-products? Are they in any way taking stock of the plastics they are generating into the environment?

Recently, a body of writers affiliated to the Nigerian Union of Journalists, the Brand Journalists’ Association of Nigeria (BJAN) brought together various thought leaders at its yearly Consumer Right Day symposium to talk on the topic “Tackling Plastic Pollution: Challenges, Solutions And Benefits”. This topic was in tandem with the world consumer day theme: “Tackling plastic pollution”.

Plastic pollution is regarded as the accumulation of plastic objects and particles such as plastic bottles, bags and other related materials in the Earth’s environment that adversely affects wildlife, wildlife habitat, and humans.

President/Founder, Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria (CAFON) Mrs. Sola Salako-Ajulo, in her presentation, stressed that everyone must work together to reduce the use of plastic, otherwise the world would be totally “plasticized” in the near future.

She added that human negligence is one of the reasons the world is experiencing huge plastic pollution as people lack proper ways of disposing of waste materials especially dumping of plastic waste materials in water channels which go into the oceans and cause a lot of harm to aquatic life.

Most plastics are so strong chemically that neither the microbes in soil nor those in water can break down the elemental bonds. With this, toxic Micro-plastics can enter the human bloodstream.

The ocean is contaminated by 8.3 million pieces of micro-plastics per cubic meter of water. Analysts have found that between 15% to 31% of all the plastic in the oceans comes from primary sources—small particles released from household and industrial products. Of this, 35% is from synthetic textiles, such as nylon. When these materials are washed, the fibres make their way through water treatment facilities and into the ocean.

An additional 28% comes from tyres that release plastic particles as they erode. A further 24% comes from city dust. The remaining 13% comes from road markings, marine coatings, personal care products, and plastic microbeads. These micro-plastics get into the ocean via road runoff (66%), wastewater (25%), and wind (7%).6
Scientists estimate that the average American eats 39,000 to 52,000 plastic particles in their food each year, only one way they are ingested. Many of the chemicals in these particles negatively affect human health and can cause cancer, anaemia, and neurodegenerative disorders.

Between 60% to 80% of all marine litter is plastic. A 2014 survey found that there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the world’s oceans. The United Nations reported that 13 million metric tons of plastic wind up in the oceans every year.

Plastic pollution costs $13 billion in economic damage to marine ecosystems per year. This includes losses to the fishing industry and tourism, as well as the cost to clean up beaches. For example, South Korea’s Geoje Island lost 63% of its tourism revenue after marine debris were washed on its beaches.

Plastic leeches chemicals, including dyes, metals, and flame-retardants. These are toxic to oxygen-producing microorganisms.

Nigeria generates about 32 million tonnes of waste per year, of which 2.5 million tonnes is plastic waste. The country’s disposal, recycling and waste management system is very inefficient, dealing with both plastic and non-plastic waste, most of which (70%) ends up in landfills, sewers, beaches and water bodies.

The question concerned Nigerians are asking brands who are the initiators of plastic use in the Nigerian Market is; what have they done to curb the danger of plastic pollution to the lives of consumers? Though it is believed in some quarters that, few of the brands in Nigeria are making efforts towards coming up with a lasting solution on plastic pollution, many Nigerians are not still satisfied considering the money they are making and the danger their businesses possess to national health.

To address this pervasive problem, Mrs Salako highlighted the 7 ‘R’s put in place by Consumers International as a way forward to minimize the effect of plastic pollution on our environment. The 7 R include rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, repair, and replace plastic material to fight against plastic pollution. She said people should take responsibility in tackling the pollution problem She said consumers can help reduce the use of plastic by making use of paper bags instead of nylons or reuse the plastic materials instead of picking new ones to carry their groceries every time they visit the market.

Speaking on this development, Ms Chineze Amanfo, Lead, Public Relations, 9mobile said plastic has been a blessing in our generations because it made things easy though not without challenges in finding ways to manage them so that they don’t exist as a curse to our survival. Also admitting this challenge, Ifeoma Okoye, Sustainability and Community Affairs Manager, Nigeria Bottling Company, saying plastic has helped society but there is a need to find a sustainable way of using it.

On her part, Mrs Shade Morgan, Corporate Affairs Director, Nigerian Breweries noted that Nigeria as a big consumer of plastics materials does not have data to track the volume of plastics companies are releasing into society and this has made NBC to partner with KPMG to carry out a thorough research on the number of plastics the company released into the society.

Read Also: Top Food Brands Team Up to Tackle Nigeria’s Rising Environmental Challenges

She added that the company in its commitment to reduce plastic pollution has changed some of its products bottles to transparent bottles for easy recycling as against coloured bottles which are not easily recyclable.

Also, Mr Ayo Oluwatosin, Member, Board of Trustee, Association of Communications Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN) said both the government and individuals have roles to play in tackling plastic pollution in the society and there is a need for advocacy event by media to let government and individual know what should be done in clear terms.

Although 127 countries have some type of regulations on plastic use, few have an outright ban. In the U.S., just eight states have banned single-use plastic bags.

Among other things, there is an urgent need for legislation that will encourage the development of a recycling economy around plastic waste. In the past, the procedure was to produce, use and dispose of it. It is now obvious that no country can’t continue this way and rev up plastic waste in its drainages and waterways, especially when plastics can be recycled for other uses.