Lagos: The Menace Of Plastic Litter, Human Waste, And Poor Sanitation
“Lagosians litter the waterways with empty plastic bottles, nylon and various kinds of filth. Another practice is open defecation on the waterways, littering it with human waste in the form of urine and even faeces. This is totally unacceptable. We have organizations emptying their waste water and various chemical pollution in the waterways.” – Damilola Famakinwa; Secretary, Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), May 2016
“Plastic bottles also contain Bisphenol A which has been linked to obesity, diabetes and cancer.” – TheWorldCounts, March 2014
Lagos State is located on the south western part of Nigeria on the narrow coastal plain of the Bight of Benin, stretching over 180 kilometers along the Guinea Coast of the Bight of Benin on the Atlantic Ocean. The dominant vegetation of the state is the swamp forest consisting of the fresh water and mangrove swamp forests both of which are influenced by the double rainfall pattern of the state, which makes the environment a wetland region.
The drainage system of the state is characterized by a maze of lagoons and waterways which constitute about 22 percent of the 787 square kilometers (75,755 hectares) of the state total landmass. The major water bodies are the Lagos and Lekki Lagoons, Yewa and ogun Rivers, Ologe Lagoon, Kuramo Waters, Badagry, Five Cowries, and Omu.
Lagos controls 60 percent of the commercial/Industrial/Manufacturing activities of Nigeria, as well as accounting for 60 percent of investment activities in the country. With a geographical area of 3,577 square kilometers and a population density of 4,193 per square kilometer, Lagos has therefore literally exploded in size and population to become Africa’s foremost urban agglomeration playing a number of national, regional and sub-regional roles in Nigeria and Africa as a major centre for administration, commerce, transport, industry, employment, education, information and communication technology. With a population of over 20 million, Lagos is said to be one of the 10 most populous cities of the world.
Due to poor sanitation, environmentally unfriendly attitude of plastic manufacturing corporations, and a number of other factors, management of water resources and access to clean drinking water poses a major challenge to Lagos city dwellers. As a result, the state hosts over 2000 bottled and sachet water manufacturing and distribution companies. This ‘Pure Water’ business, as it is popularly known, now generates tonnes of waste that clog drains, litter the streets and waterways, and ultimately alter the ecosystem. As in other parts of the world, most consumer goods are now being packaged with plastic, nylon materials which often times due to inefficient waste management practice find their way into water bodies thereby polluting the marine ecosystems. For instance, out of the 10,000 plus metric tonnes of waste generated in Lagos per day, 12 per cent of the waste consists of plastic materials in the form of soft drink plastic, water and other consumer goods.
The rise of shanties is also posing serious threat to sanitation as millions of residents who have no access to standard toilets and lavatories resort to open defecation and indiscriminate disposal of urine and faeces. Besides, arbitrary sinking of boreholes beyond recommended depths by pure water manufacturers is posing great risks to the underwater aquifer. Recently, the state government sealed off the premises of 2 of these companies for offences it described as non-compliance. Also government agencies in charge of waste and channel management have repeatedly issued warnings to city dwellers to stop littering the environment with plastic bottles and nylons as well as polluting the waters with human waste. This report examines the ugly role of used plastic bottles, disposed nylons, and exposed human waste as water and environmental pollutants.
Blocked Drains and Filthy Streets
Blocked drains, gutters and canals that emit foul odor have continued to be a regular feature of Lagos metropolis. The unfortunate aspect of this development is that many Lagos residents have come to accept it as part of city life. Most parts of the sprawling city are flooded during rainy season due to blocked drains, gutters and canals arising from the mountains of refuse that litter every part of the densely populated commercial nerve centre. It is commonplace to find pure water sachets, plastic bottles indiscriminately disposed of by people ending up in these drains, gutters and canals. The result is that most of them are blocked year round. Mrs. Titilolu Adeyo, Recycling Manager, Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) says that plastic bottles and such items are becoming a menace to the environment because of the attitude of the people to indiscriminately discard refuse which ends up in canals, drainage channels and the rest thereby causing floods during rainy season.
WITH a population of over 20 million people, producing thousand tons of waste each day, waste disposal in Lagos has remained a big issue to deal with, especially when it piles up on the streets and residential areas. The situation is made worse by the use of plastic to package water and other beverages in the city and the attitude of residents, who indiscriminately dispose them along the streets, with many of them finding their way into gutters, drains and water-ways.In the past, officials of the Emergency Flood Abatement Gang (EFAG) under the Lagos Ministry of the Environment had expressed concern over the indiscriminate dumping of objects, including used plastic bottles, into canals and drainages. The concern was borne out of the large number of used plastic bottles, which they had to remove from the drainages around the metropolis where flood was reported. Such areas then included Lagos Island, Agege, AbuleEgba, Bariga, Fadeyi, Ketu, Ilasa, Mushin, Isolo, Oshodi and Okota to mention a few.
A flooded street full of plastic waste
The situation was, however, brought under control by the government through a number of initiatives, which included a material incentive to recycle plastic bottles, bags and tin cans. In this initiative, tricycles known as “Wecyclers” would go door to door to collect plastic waste.People in return earn points that could be turned into gifts. The Wecyclers then take the waste to factories that transform them to small plastic balls, which could be used in producing objects like basins and buckets. However, Lagosians are worried about the efficiency of this effort as the scenario is apparently getting worse every day. They are apprehensive over the resurgence of heaps of used plastic bottles on the roadsides and verges, particularly in Mushin, Oshodi, Lagos Island, Agege, Abule Egba and other parts of the metropolis.
Debris on Waterways
According to a publication of The San Luis Obispo County Integrated Waste Management Authority (2016), 86 percent of ocean debris is plastic. This figure is applicable to Lagos as same publication reports that there is an inadequacy of landfills and sewage treatment plants and, as a result, a significant volume of trash goes into the sea. The menace of plastics is a visible problem which can be seen across Lagos shorelines. It is the most common substance that washes up with the waves. It is light and floats easily so it can travel enormous distances. They are not biodegradable, which means that things like plastic bottles and their tops can survive in the marine environment for a long time. A plastic bottle can survive an estimated 450 years in the ocean.
Plastic waste in drainage
The Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) in partnership with Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) on Saturday, April 30, cautioned residents of Lagos against littering waterways with human wastes. The Secretary of LASWA, Mr Damilola Famakinwa, gave the warning during the authority’s clean-up exercise at Ebute Ero Jetty, Lagos Island, Lagos.The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the exercise was conducted in collaboration with Wecyclers, a Non-Profit Organization to clean debris around the jetty. said that the exercise was to sensitize and enlighten members of the public on the benefits of keeping the waterways clean.“Our objective is to educate members of the public on the dangers of polluting our waterways and to make them imbibe a culture of keeping waterways clean. Observation has shown that, generally, Lagosians violate and do not take proper care of the waterways. Lagosians litter the waterways with empty plastic, bottles, nylons and various kinds of filth. Another practice is open defecation on the waterways, littering it with human wastes in the form of urine and even faeces. This is totally unacceptable. We have organizations emptying their waste water and various chemicals in the waterways,” he said. Famakinwa said that the pollution of waterways necessitated the campaign tagged: ‘Caring for our Waterways’, with the support of relevant agencies. According to him, the pilot campaign commences at Ebute-Ero because the authority notices various kinds of dirt and litter in the waterways allegedly caused by market men and women in the area. The scribe highlighted some of the dangers to include accidents and obstruction to easy navigation on waterways. He added that it exposes waterways to bacteria and viruses dangerous to marine life, inhibiting recreation and leisure activities on waterways as well as affecting the aesthetic value of waterways.
Fishing companies who no longer catch so much fish have campaigned for tougher penalties against factories that pour pollution into rivers and creeks. For example, the Coca-cola depot in Apapa spews oily substances into the canal that separates Apapa from Ajegunle. The same body of deathly black water flows behind Marine Road all the way to Liverpool roundabout and beyond. Who knows just what toxic substances are in it?
Unsafe Drinking Water
The past 20 years has seen a surge in people’s desire to be healthy and drink safe water and the bottled water became a regular and popular commodity. Lagosians depend 100 percent on bottled and sachet water for their daily supply of clean drinking water. On the average, adults consume a minimum of 7 sachets or 3 bottles (75cl each) of water per day. Considering the teeming Lagos population of 20 million, a total of 140 million sachets or 60 million bottles of water is consumed per day. How safe is bottled water and bottled water waste? According to TheWorldCounts (2014), here are some bottled water waste facts.
- Most of the bottled water you buy is just glorified tap water. There are a few brands whose water really comes from springs and mountain streams, but most are just tap water that’s been purified.
- Only 1 out of 5 plastic bottles is recycled. The rest just becomes litter or get buried somewhere.
- It takes 1 PET plastic bottle 700 years to start decomposing. Bacteria, which usually help in breaking down organic materials, don’t like petroleum based plastics. Technically, they can last forever.
- More than 100 million plastic bottles are used worldwide every day!
- 90% of the cost of bottled water is due to the packaging, not the water quality.
- Plastic water bottles are petroleum based. In the U.S alone, it takes 1.5 million barrels of oil to meet the demands.
- An estimate 1,500 plastic bottles end up as waste in landfills or thrown in the ocean every second.
- There’s an area in the Pacific Ocean the size of Texas - known as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – which is composed of plastic.
- Plastic is listed as the number one threat to our marine ecosystem.
- The energy used to manufacture bottled water can power 190,000 homes.
- Antimony, which causes dizziness and depression and even death can be found in PET plastic bottles.
- Plastic bottles also contain Bisphenol A which has been linked to obesity, diabetes and cancer.
- The plastic bottles may be BPA-Free but there are chemicals in the bottles, such as phthalates, can seep into the drink and be harmful to your health.
From these data, it’s clear that bottling water is not a health solution, but an illusion that needs to stop. Due to these environmental issues, some countries are thinking of banning the manufacture of water bottles.
Human Waste in Drainages
2 out of 3 Lagos residents live in a slum with no reliable access to clean drinking water, and waste disposal. As the city population swells up to 8 percent every year, the slums and their associated problems are growing. Abdul shares a 2-room shack with three other adults and eight children at the sawmill area of Yaba. The family buys water by the bucket for drinking, cooking and bathing. Like the estimated 10,000 other residents of this waterside settlement, all the family’s waste and raw sewage go directly into the inky water beneath and around their homes.
Slum at Sawmill, Lagos Island
At the Iponri area of Suru Lere, located right behind Iponri Police Barracks, many residents live in squalor in very unsanitary conditions. All along the streets, water is gushing into plastic buckets and aluminium receptacles, washing sticky breakfast dishes. It flows down the street in a rippling sheet. Bisecting it is an open drain, which gushes torrentially, flushing away the detritus of the previous day. From the stink of this, it includes a lot of human excrement – which tiny naked children, squatting with their backsides jutting over their torrent, are busy adding to. Right behind this settlement is a canal where indiscriminately many households channel their toilets. It is not supposed to be so.
This setting exists in the many slums and shanties all around Lagos. In the remote areas of Ikotun, Ejigbo, Majidun-Ikorodu, Ogba, Kio-Kio village, Pako and the popular Ajegunle, there are residential areas where dwellings are unfit for human habitaion. A visit to the hinterlands in many of the above areas would reveal the inhabitable, cramped, poorly ventilated and unclean environment where many live, where families bear and raise children and socialise.
Slum at Ajegunle
Majidun, Ikorodu area of Lagos area is populated mostly by the Ilajes who dwell in houses that were not only poorly built but over-crowded. Potable water was another luxury in the area. Because they are surrounded by a river, residents depend mainly on it as their major source of water which are used for their culinary chores, washing and bathing. Michael Shuaibu, a resident disclosed that “we pay heavily for ‘water-tankers’ weekly to deliver water which we drink.” Since they resort to the river for their water need, they may be exposed to risk of waterborne diseases, especially the children. There were some men at different parts of the site having their baths in the open as there were no public or private bathrooms and toilets including drainage system of any sort.
Slum at Ogba
By the year 2006, the World Bank had identified nine of the largest slums; Agege, Ajegunle, Amukoko, Badia, Bariga, Ijeshatedo/Itire, Ilaje, Iwaya, and Makoko for upgrading with a US$200 million loan to improve drainage and solid waste management. But slums still exist in various parts of Lagos.
Threat to Underground Water
A report from the Lagos State Water Regulatory Commission (LSWR) says that the first and second aquifers of underground water under the state have been badly damaged due to unlawful activities of bottled and sachet water producers. This practice undermines the government’s determination to preserve and conserve all the aquifers of underground water to ensure safety of lives, provision of portable water that is of good quality and a water sector that is sustainable and viable.
Incidentally, Chlorinated plastic can release harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil, which can then seep into groundwater or other surrounding water sources. This can cause serious harm to the species that drink the water. Besides, it can also affect the ocean, animals and humans.
In June, 2016, the Lagos State Government shut down 2 water producing companies; CWAY Nigeria Drinking Water Science and Technology Company Limited and Figol Water, for breaching safety standard. Ahmed Abdulahi, Executive Secretary, LSWRC said the government is determined to ensure compliance with the state’s groundwater quality control regulation and the state drinking water quality standard. CWAY was sealed for non-declaration of all its facilities and non-compliance as stipulated in the regulatory guidelines of the Lagos State Water Sector Law (LSWSL) 2004. “The administration of Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, being a very responsive government, would no longer fold its hands and watch the pollution of the groundwater through indiscriminate abstraction and illegal borehole drilling that is polluting the underground water on a daily basis,” he said.
The city has a wide range of industries ranging from large scale textile factories, foods and pharmaceuticals, tanneries and motor assembly plants, to roadside one-man vehicle repair garages. Some wastes are disposed through the sewer system or via the surface water courses. Many of the small premises do not have access to any disposal system other than allowing wastes to soak into the ground. Industrial contaminants can also gain access to the local aquifer either via interaction with the surface water bodies or directly through infiltration. Pollutants to be expected range from metals, plastics, and other inorganic species to industrial organic compounds. Presently, the state can only boast of 33 percent water provision which is largely dependent on bottled and sachet water.
What Government is Doing
In a bid to have a refuse-free city, the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) recently initiated the recycling of waste to wealth and buy-back waste programme where people can make money from waste items that usually litter the streets of Lagos. The agency has set up waste banks established at designated spots across the city and Local Government Areas for easy accessibility and collection of these wastes. LAWMA’s Recycling Manager, Mrs. Titilolu Adeyo, explained that the buy-back project was initiated because the landfills cannot continue to take all the non-biodegradable materials. She pointed out that it was also noticed that plastic bottles and such items were becoming a menace to the environment because of the attitude of the people to discard refuse indiscriminately which end up in canals, drainage channels and the rest thereby causing floods during rainy season.
Mrs. Adeyo added that to arrest the situation, LAWMA decided to put value on these waste materials by buying them back from members of the public with little money. “So, we buy here at this landfill, just as we have other designated spots where we equally buy these materials so that people don’t have to go very far to sell these waste materials. We buy the pure water sachets for N5 per kilogramme provided it is clean and moisture free. We buy the plastic bottles at N20 per kilogramme. We give the recycled bags to people who need them. The idea behind putting money value to pure water sachets is to discourage people from flying them all over the place thereby degrading the environment. Again, the idea behind the buyback project is to create job market for people just as unemployed Lagos residents can tap into the recycling business which is lucrative, as a way of encouraging people to be self-employed,” she said.
Further, the LAWMA Recycling Manager said: “To make our land fill sites less odorous and over packed with waste, we have adopted a zero waste initiative to improve life in the society. The best way to become eco-friendly and help protect our environment is by recycling. This helps to eliminate the problem of landfill areas becoming filled with junk that could harm the soil as well as the environment. Under the adoption of our zero waste initiative, we have drastically reduced the volumes of waste being disposed at the various landfill sites by employing waste to wealth alternatives. Out of approximately 9,000 metric tonnes of waste generated daily in Lagos, about 1,200 metric tonnes of waste is now being converted to other useful resources under a formal arrangement with the private sector as follows: Waste to Compost Plant at Ikorodu, 8 percent, Waste Paper bailed at Ojota, 1 percent Plastic/Nylon recycling at Ojo and Ojota, 2 percent, Other informal activities; 5 percent”, Mrs. Adeyo explained.
Indeed, Waste recycling is not something new, particularly in the developed world. But in the developing countries like Nigeria and others, emphasis is just being given to it as a means of giving value to waste materials that constitute nuisance to the environment. In fact, recycling is a key element of the modern waste reduction which is the third component of the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” waste hierarchy. Environment experts describe it as the process of transforming used materials into new products. Recyclable materials include several kinds of glass, paper, metal, plastic, textiles, electronics and others. As in any other process, the recycling process is methodological. Recyclable materials are first gathered at a collection centre, then sorted, cleaned, and reprocessed into new materials bound for manufacturing.
Nigeria is an oil producing country and as such plastic and plastic products are cheap. Lagos State Water Corporation officially claims to meet up with only 33 percent of Lagosians’ total demand for water. Yet this water is not drinkable as even government offices depend on water dispensers provided by bottled water manufacturers for daily supply of clean drinkable water. Just as the environment is littered with plastic waste so are poor slum dwellers exposed to poisoning from sachet water produced in very unhygienic places. The surrounding water bodies are not left out as city dwellers pollute them on a daily basis with plastics, nylons, and human waste mostly from the slums. This trend will continue regardless of the concerted effort of government to keep it in check. Though Recycling is an internationally acclaimed procedure for waste management, it is still a process that converts plastic to plastic. To augment the recycling preference, government should further hold bottled water manufacturers to account through proper legislation.
Chigozie Chikere is a maritime transport and logistics professional, training facilitator, and media advocate. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.