Malls, Waste and Living Standard In Nigeria
From Lagos to Kano, Malls are an increasingly visible staple across urban and urbanizing Nigerian areas, and as the Nigerian middle class expands, the demand for malls and shopping is growing exponentially.
Whilst this is a marker in the difficult advancement of Nigeria’s development, we must not lose sight of issues that may arise as our population and consumption inevitably increases. In a significantly diverse country like Nigeria, few cultural phenomena unite us all, one of this few is the “mall culture” as it has been dubbed in certain circles, these phenomena visualized by the signature branded plastic bags, have become a marker of middle class status within the Nigerian society.
This improvement unfortunately has given rise to immense waste and pollution, across streets, wastelands and even in our homes heaps of plastic bags can be seen littering the environment and this goes further than just an aesthetic issue.
Globally, 160,000 plastic bags are used every second and by the time you are done reading this article, at least 67.2 million plastic bags would have been used, 1% of which would be recycled and the rest, the 99%, are simply thrown out, and for many, that seems to be the end of the road for our cheap and beloved plastic bags.
But that is far from the truth, as this is just the beginning of its lifecycle. As of present, scientists do not know how long it takes for plastic to completely decompose into organic matter, this is because plastics have simply not been around for a long time and their use became popular in the 1970’s and has not stopped since.
The speculated estimated time to decompose plastic is between 500 – 1000 years, and even though it is only speculated there is generally consensus that the plastics we use in our daily lives without recycling will outlive us all, their effects in our environments not only affects us but the generations to come.
Did you know that there are plastic particles within your system ?
Plastics tend to disrupt the environment significantly, when they are littered on the ground they eventually break down into the soil, slowly releasing toxic chemicals. Some of the debris are consumed by livestock like sheep and cow, in the water fishes eat them too, these animals sometimes choke and even die on eating the debris, and most times the plastic molecules remain in their system and we consume their meat, in effect, we are consuming the plastics.
A recent study, by The Environment Agency Austria, conducted on eight participants from Europe, Japan and Russia, found that all of them had microplastic particles inside their stools, these coming from different stages across the food chains. This means that, with time, we will soon begin to see the health effects of microplastics within our system widespread, issues that our grandparents did not have to deal with. Due to the relative recency of mass use of plastics, the long term effects they have from being in our bodies are not well studied.
At this point, you might be wondering that what can we do as citizens to reduce our plastic waste and its effects on the environment, economics and our bodies. Unfortunately despite continuous pressure, at the governmental level, not much has been done to reduce the use of plastics specifically, plastic bags within Nigeria.
so what can you do ?
Invest in a reusable water bottle; it is almost certain that presently around you, there are plastic bottles littered all around the surrounding, instead we should invest in quality long term water bottles, plus it saves you a lot of money. In a month, in other to meet our daily water intake requirement, the average Nigerian would have spent approximately N15,490.8 on bottled water, whereas a simple reusable water bottle could cost you less than N1,000.
Making use of a water bottle not only, helps the environment and your health, but now you can use that N15,490.8 for something more worthwhile.
Use reusable bags; whether it is to the drycleaners or to a shopping mall, we should invest in fabric bags instead of plastic bags. It not only saves the environment and our health but can be very stylish.
Increase awareness; whether it is by talking to family, a friend or colleague, inform people on the long term dangers that plastics have on our environment now and especially the future environment their kids would live in. Join eco-friendly groups and support small eco-friendly businesses to grow.
We should also put pressure on our elected officials to address the growing problems, as our economy and culture cannot exist outside of the environment.
Clean up, repurpose and recycle; it is near impossible in our current society to avoid plastics, but that does not mean we should give up on our responsibility to the environment.
Firstly it is important that we clean up the surrounding, this can be done personally at home or even a group project where members of our communities can come together and bond while caring for our environment.
We can also repurpose the plastics we do use, plastic bottles could be used as vase for plants and flowers and plastics can always be used to create impressive artworks, maybe even art that calls attention to our excessive reliance on plastics.
Kids should also be encouraged to make art from plastic materials, as it builds their minds, intelligence and sociocultural consciousness.
The fight against plastic waste and pollution is not futile, with determination and imagination we can move towards a more health and sustainable way of livelihood and it starts with you and I.
Umar Farouq Abdulsalam
University of Manitoba, Winnipeg,