Plastic was supposed to make our lives better: simpler and more convenient. But I join millions of people around the world who have woken up to the fact that this is myth. We have a global plastic emergency. A rubbish problem.
Where I live – Jos, in central Nigeria – a short walk around town makes clear that what was sold to aid convenience has become an inconvenience for all. Plastic bags, plastic bottles and little plastic sachets of water and toiletries litter what was meant to be a ‘garden city’. This rubbish is found in drains, in dumps piled perilously close to houses and across the farmland surrounding Jos. And it’s making us sick.
Streams and gullies often provide drinking water for poorer areas of the city and countryside. These communities suffer from malaria, diarrhoea and dysentery as a result of rubbish in the water. It’s even worse in the rainy season; the waterways, which are blocked by plastic and other rubbish, burst and flood polluted water into communities.
Dumping rubbish on land is equally problematic. Waste generated from rich areas is often dumped in poorer areas of Jos, or on farming land in rural communities. I’m hearing increasing reports of farming land being poisoned by pollutants that have leached from waste dumps. In a bid to avoid these rubbish problems more people are burning their waste, but this creates its own danger in terms of respiratory problems.
Living Without Waste Collection
One in four people globally live without waste collection, including many people in Nigeria. It’s estimated that Nigeria generates more than 32 million tonnes of solid waste annually, of which only 20-30% is collected. But even if we were to collect 100% of our rubbish, what would we do with it all?
The amount of plastic being produced and sold is growing all the time. Plastic products are sold everywhere in Nigeria, along with the vision of a new consumer economy accessible to even those on very low incomes. Can’t afford a whole bottle of shampoo? Buy a single-use plastic sachet instead. Use and discard. This is not how previous generations of Nigerians lived.
I know we have a rubbish problem, and I’m not alone in wanting to do something about it. I have the joy of being part of a dynamic group of Christian volunteers called the Jos Green Centre. The Centre’s motto is ‘Broken Things Made Whole’. We united around a vision for Nigeria in which the poor have enough and the natural world is protected. We aim to be the change we want to see.
The launch of the Jos Green Centre was to celebrate World Environment Day, June 6th 2016. The tagline for that particular World Environment Day was ‘ Broken Things Made Whole’ which unbeknown to us at the time would eventually be the motto of the Jos Green Centre.
The Jos Green Centre are passionate about rubbish! We’ve gone into schools, colleges, churches and even on the radio to educate the public about changing their lifestyles around waste. We’ve tried to be creative in how we engage people. I wrote a play called ‘What Do You Think You’re Eating?’ aimed at a popular outdoor grilling centre in Jos, asking for commitments to swap plastic Coke bottles for refillable glass ones instead, and to reduce the use of polyethene bags.
We’ve lobbied government agencies in Jos to do something about waste collection. As part of this work we’ve agreed a partnership with the Jos Metropolitan Development board to collect the plastic flex banners that litter the city, and we’re converting them into durable shopping bags.
Two major success stories from the Jos Green Centres waste management journey are Abraham Anung and Emmanuel Kura.
Abraham is a tailor. Through the Jos Green Centre Abraham learnt how to sew a bag using the recycled banners we collected. This inspired Abraham to expand his sewing from clothes to making bags both out of recycled and new materials. Abraham has hired 12 more tailors and apprentices and says, “knowing how to make the banner bags opened business opportunities that I didn’t know before.”
Emmanuel Kura is another Jos Green Centre member who has added to his source of livelihood as a result of waste management knowledge and training. Emmanuel has decide to start his own waste collection business. The first thing he did was ask the members of the Jos Green Centre to let him manage their waste. Through word of mouth Emmanuel made connections with more clients. Today he manages the waste of 17 clients who he has been able to get to separate their waste to organic and inorganic on a very basic level. For starters he manages the wastes of his clients for N2000 a month.
The Jos Green Centre has trained over 300 young people on how to recycle and repurpose waste. They have been trained in making paving tiles out of plastic bags, and charcoal briquettes out of woody waste from the market, which they can then sell.
So, there are passionate Christians in Jos working to reduce the impact of plastic waste, and we see this activism replicated in all sorts of different communities all round the world. A global social movement is growing as people reject lifestyles that mindlessly extract, consume and discard.
But ultimately the rubbish problem can’t be solved if we don’t tackle the source of plastic pollution. That’s why I am delighted to support the Renew Our World global moment on plastic waste, which calls on Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever to take responsibility for their plastic waste in poorer countries. These companies sell billions of products in single-use plastic packaging in countries like Nigeria, knowing full well that waste isn’t collected. I want these companies to face up to the problems caused by the waste they create, and work with us to become part of the solution.
Check out this page to see how you can play your part and ask Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever to clean up their act.