The earth is under a lot of pressure but the most pressing is without doubt environmental. Some of these are, at the moment, beyond man’s control while others can be contained. A substantial amount of these pressures has built gradually over time, as the world population grew and had to be supported by increasing industrialization.
Okinola A. Alabi and his colleagues at the Federal University of Technology, Akure and Federal College of Education, Oyo, noted that between 1950 and 2018, the world witnessed the production of about 6.3 billion tonnes of plastics and out of these, only 9% and 12% have been recycled and incinerated respectively.
Africa has a huge share of this problem. Nigeria, as the most populous nation in Africa, is among the biggest generators of solid waste with an estimated 32 million tonnes annually. From this number, plastic waste constitutes 2.5 million tonnes. This is a huge problem for everyone and a serious concern for any forward-thinking stakeholder. It is particularly worrisome for the organisers of Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Summit 2020, who have themed the event; HSE in our DNA: Recycling to Wealth.
Global concerns around the negative impact of single-use plastics on the environment have led governments and corporations to act, with the European Union, China and several states in the United States announcing regulations that discourage such. These regulations generally include ban on plastic tableware and straws, ban on the use of non-degradable plastic bags and ban on non-degradable single-use plastics.
With the spotlight on stakeholders in industry, especially International Oil Companies (IOCs) and makers of Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs), and with the additional pressure that the Covid-19 pandemic has exerted on the world in the beginning of a new decade, there is no better time than now to begin a deliberate move to consolidate a national agenda on economic opportunities in recycling and the reuse of resources.
It is very strategic to have the IOCs and FMCGs in any conversation on plastic recycling. The IOCs produce the materials used in making plastics and the FMCGs use plastics in the packaging and distribution of their products. They have critical roles to play in commitments towards recycling.
Bringing together stakeholders in manufacturing, academics, government, policymakers & shapers, nonprofits and social engineers, the HSE Summit draws from the intertwining issues of health, safety, environment, security and social economics to build consensus on national agenda on waste recycling for improved economic opportunities.
One of its promoters, Ken Etete, noted that the focus of HSE conversations in Nigeria are currently around compliance-based goals, which need to shift to conversations that will underscore commitments to solving environmental problems and at the same time creating economic opportunities. “All over the world, there are conversations around environmental sustainability that are tied to economic opportunities to be derived from them; if we look at this from a resource efficiency perspective, the opportunity is around $4.5 trillion according to the World Economic Forum,” Etete said, adding that, “As Africa’s largest economy, we must have active national and regional platforms that engage stakeholders in industry, regulators, the academia and the general public; this is what we seek to do with the HSE Summit.”
Obviously, manufacturers have a strong role to play here, what with the entire chain of operation sitting with them. Land pollution, water pollution, air pollution and other animal and plant concerns are some of the impacts of the source-produce-and-discard model that is mostly obtainable now. Experts have flagged this as an unsustainable production model. Fortunately, science has established that these resources can be used in more efficient and safer ways and the waste they generate can be transformed from one form to another to serve diverse purposes.
To this end, the summit will specifically call IOCs and FMCGs in Nigeria to the table and engage them on these issues. “Multinational corporations have generally done a good job globally in clearly articulating their sustainability ambitions and we cannot take for granted the progress that this represents, considering that many of them publish sustainability reports that hold them accountable,” Etete said, adding, “There is however a need to localise this global conversation in Nigeria.”