The proposed ban on plastic packaging

Last week report to the effect that the House of Representatives has reinforced its move for a law to prohibit the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging in Nigeria is a welcome development as it will help in no small measure to protect the environment and promote the health of Nigerians.
Justifying the Bill to that effect, which already passed for second reading, its sponsor, Hon. Sergius Ogun(Edo-PDP), said if enacted into law, the Bill would go a long way in addressing harmful impacts to oceans, rivers and lakes, as well as relieve pressure on landfalls, waste management, forests, environment, wildlife as well as human beings.
According to him, uncontrolled use of plastic materials (polythene bags) and the arbitrary disposal of same, posed great danger to humanity and even to the environment.
“Over time, these plastic/polythene bags find their way into the marine environment and are ingested by marine animals thereby choking them.
“At least 267 different species of animals have suffered as a result of ingestion of plastic.
In fact, these results caused Australia to ban bags locally in 2003, in an effort to protect the migrating whales in Tasmania.
In Ireland, there is what is known as ‘bag tax’.
This resulted in a 90 percent drop in plastic bag usage and a great reduction in spread,” he said.
On its other objectives, the lawmaker said it would give the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) and other relevant environmental protection bodies the statutory foundation to clampdown on those who pollute our environment with the use of plastic bags.
In his contribution, Hon. Aminu Shagari said presently, there were no adequate laws regulating the use, manufacture or importation of plastics, adding that these are the kind of regulations we should make as legislators to protect our environment.
Also, Hon. Mohammad Monguno said that plastic materials did not decay but lasted for 100 of years which could affect agriculture and aquatic life.“When animals consume the plastics and human beings consume the animals it becomes dangerous to the lives of human beings”, he said.
Speaker Yakubu Dogara referred the Bill, after scaling second reading to the House Committee on Environment for further legislative action.
Ogun’s motion for the Bill to control the manufacture, use and disposal of plastic bags, also known as polythene bags, in the country was unanimously adopted by the House in October, last year. The lawmaker had 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.
He said 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. He said 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.
Environmental scientists have predicted that by 2050 there would be more waste plastics (by weight) in the ocean than fish. This is because it is estimated that one garbage truck full of plastics is dumped into the ocean every minute. A scientific research also revealed that only five percent of plastics is effectively recycled, 40 per cent ends up in land refill and 55 per cent drifts to the ocean.
Most plastics in circulation are as good as non-biodegradable (non-decomposable )because plastic bags take 20 years to decompose and plastic bottles up to 450 – 1000 years to degrade. This proven fact shows that plastics pose a great threat to marine lives (such as turtles, seals, whales) which may swallow these microplastics in the ocean mistaking them for food. The marine creature subsequently dies and if it doesn’t die from feeding on plastic, it will certainly end up in human food chain. These plastics are also responsible for flooding and drain blockages after heavy downpour. This is as a result of improperly disposed plastic wastes which find their ways into the drainages, canals and other water channels, thereby obstructing free flow of water.
It is on the backdrop of this scary revelation that we commend the speedy passage of the Bill by the House. Beyond a legal framework to control the manufacture, use and disposal of plastic bags there is also the need to embark on a media campaign to enlighten the people on the hazards of these products. This will be more pragmatic, effective and result-oriented that a ‘mere’ piece of legislation that may lack the force of law.

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