By: David Temitope

Policy Analyst

The Nigerian House of Representatives on Tuesday, 10 October 2017, resolved to control the manufacture, use and disposal of plastic bags, also known as polythene bags, in the country.

The lawmakers passed the resolution, following their unanimous adoption of a motion moved by Rep. Sergius Ogun (Edo-PDP) at the plenary session.

The Rep. said about 50 billion plastic bags were used annually, adding that these polythene bags accounted for over 20 per cent of municipal solid waste across the country.

Furthermore, Ogun stated that the uncontrolled use of plastic materials and the arbitrary disposal of these materials, particularly shopping bags, portended some dangers to the people and the environment. The lawmaker said that the non-degradable materials that littered the country could linger in the environment for decades without decaying.

He noted that the plastics eventually became a major cause of obstructed drainages and water channels, which had precipitated flooding in some flood-prone areas. Some states in Nigeria, including Lagos, has experienced series of floods this year, causing loss of lives and properties.

Ogun said that plastic bags gravely disrupted the ecological balance, seeping into water and emitting dioxins into food, whenever they were left in a humid environment or heated, and that most plastic bags were burnt, thereby releasing harmful toxic gases such as methane and carbon dioxide into the air, increasing the level of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the atmosphere.

He suggested that because of the risks which the polythene bags posed to public health, they should be replaced with biodegradable or fabric materials.

Ogun noted that several African countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Mauritania and Malawi had adopted measures to reduce the production of plastic bags.

Flooded area in Lagos Mainland, with plastic wastes in drainage system

He said that in these countries, there was either an outright ban on plastic bags or an imposition of tax as a means of checking carbon emissions emanating from the use of plastic bags, particularly single-use shopping bags.

He stressed that the government should take cognizance of the proliferation of single-use plastic bags in Nigeria and the significant costs of their disposal, litter control and negative environmental impact.

The lawmaker said that as a result of the health and environmental risks of the sustained production and use of polythene bags, it was imperative for the country to adopt international best practices on effective control mechanisms.

While supporting the motion, some members said that the motion should be upgraded into a bill.

In his ruling, the Speaker, Mr Yakubu Dogara, mandated the Committees on Environment and Habitat and Climate Change to collaborate with the Federal Ministry of Environment on how to regulate the manufacture, use and disposal of plastic bags.

He urged the committees to also look into waste recycling options and report back to the House within six weeks for further legislative action.

With the adoption of the bill, Environmentalists and concerned citizens await its execution. Some economist have argued that imposing more fines on plastic bag producers or its outright ban, may have more negative effects on an already fragile economy which just exited recession, with over 24m people presently unemployed in the country.  However, environmental analysts have suggested, the cost of plastic bags to the environment and health, is higher than the economic cost of its ban. Plastic bags  manufacturing process has been documented to results in billions of tons of solid waste and millions of tons of CO2 every year. The increase in flooding due to indiscriminate plastic bags disposal, directly results in damages of public  infrastructures and utilities.