Someone Tell Lagos Residents There’s No Garbage In Heaven

You must be wondering why such a headline.

Well, why not?

Nigerians and by extension, Lagos state residents are a set of religious people – be it Christians or Muslims – who believe in the reality of heaven.

One would then wonder whether we’re really thinking of this heaven, with our culture of waste ‘mis’management.

I came across two super comprehensive posts published by Kadir van Lohuizen and Kevin Sieff on the Washington Post. It captures people’s attitudes to waste in major cities like Jakarta, Tokyo, Lagos, New York, Sao Paulo and Amsterdam.

I decided to do this post because I’m a Lagos resident and the garbage gets to me too and it would be great to see everyone being ‘heaven-minded’ too.

Here are some of the things learnt from the post entitled ‘Drowning in Garbage” – with more focus on Lagos.

Did you know that planet earth generates at least 3.5 million tons of solid waste a day, 10 times the amount a century ago? According to World Bank researchers, if nothing is done, that figure will grow to 11 million tons by the end of the century, the researchers estimate. On average, Americans throw away their own body weight in trash every month. In Japan, meanwhile, the typical person produces only two-thirds as much. It’s difficult to find comparable figures for the trash produced by mega-cities. But clearly, New York generates by far the most waste. People in the broader metropolitan area throw away 33 million tons per year, according to a report by a global group of academics published in 2015 in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences. That’s 15 times the Lagos metropolitan area, their study found.

This Is Why Dumps Are A Problem

Dumps are a problem because they release methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere. Burning trash outdoors is also harmful, to the environment and people’s health.

My word: No wonder Lagos gets so hot!

Landfills and waste dumps are quickly filling up — with many of the largest receiving on average 10,000 tons of waste per day.

As a country becomes richer, the composition of its waste changes — more packaging, electronic components, broken toys and appliances, and relatively less organic material.

By 2050, there will be so much plastic floating in the ocean it will outweigh the fish, according to a study issued by the World Economic Forum. Scientists estimate that there are at least 5.25 trillion plastic particles — weighing nearly 270,000 tons — floating in the oceans right now.

Most waste in Africa, the United States and Asia ends up in dumps, many of which are already at capacity. Europe sends less of its waste to dumps or landfills and more to incinerators. While some of them are relatively clean, many are a threat to the environment and public health. Tokyo has more than 20 garbage incinerators in the metropolitan area. The city says they are not hazardous to public health, because they burn mostly organic material and use an advanced system to filter out damaging gases.

But if the world is not prepared to think about waste reduction and actually treat garbage as a resource, future generations will drown in their own waste.

Lagos has a population of around 21 million people but produces only around 2.5 million tons of waste a year, according to a study by a global group of academics published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences. Some estimates are higher. One of the fastest-growing cities in the world, Lagos struggles not only with how to deal with its own waste but with garbage sent to Nigeria illegally from Europe and the United States.

The biggest landfill in Lagos, Olusosun, is near capacity, and there is no viable alternative set to take its place in the near future. It receives about 3,000 to 5,000 tons of trash per day, officials say.

The thousands of scavengers who work at the landfill help the recycling efforts, albeit under harrowing conditions. What looks apocalyptic is actually a well-organized work site. What is surprising is that the landfill doesn’t smell as bad as others do around the world.

This is largely due to the fact that Nigerians hardly waste any food.

The city is planning to close the landfill and build transfer and sorting stations and incinerators — as well as another major dump 40 miles away, in the city of Badagry — but these steps will take years. In the meantime in some areas of Lagos, people use waste to create land, building homes on it.

The Need To Recycle

Around the world, in the 1990s and early 2000s, recycling became an increasingly profitable business. And in Nigeria, where the average yearly salary is $2,000, thousands were drawn to the industry despite its often brutal conditions. It also helped the city eliminate some of its trash, draw foreign investors and win accolades internationally.

“This is what comes from a burgeoning middle class,” said Lolade Oresanwo, the chief operating officer of the recycling and waste management firm WestAfricaENRG, as she walked around bags of the most valuable materials at one of the city’s waste-sorting sites.

In a warehouse outside Olusosun, Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola runs Wecyclers, a business that collects and recycles plastic, paper and metal. Born in Lagos and educated at MIT, she estimates that scrap metal and plastic in Lagos is worth about $700 million per year. Her company has launched a fleet of vehicles and bicycles to pick up recyclable material across the city, compensating people with household goods and appliances.

“Before people just saw plastic as being useless,” Adebiyi-Abiola said. “Now they say, ‘This is money.’ ”

But only roughly a tenth of Lagos’s waste is recycled, and there are massive challenges facing companies such as Wecyclers. The electricity necessary to turn plastic bottles into exportable pellets is unreliable in Lagos. And the companies are largely dependent on China’s demand for recycled plastic, which the country has pledged to stop importing as part of its campaign against “foreign garbage.” China says such trash harms the environment and serves as a public health hazard.

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