World Environment Day occurs on the 5th of June every year, and serves to raise awareness for the protection of our environment.
Last week, I was meeting a few friends at a popular Lagos lagoon-front clubhouse, we were treated to a scenic view with luxury boats gently bobbing on the soft waves repeatedly crashing against the boundary walls of the clubhouse. With promises of an idyllic sunset, we could really have been anywhere in the world.
Except this experience was disturbed by the presence of row upon row of plastic waste, bobbing right beside the luxury boats. It was all at once a peculiar and very disturbing sight. This wasn’t just a few stray pieces of plastic; it was masses upon masses of the stuff. At a point, it became almost overwhelming to see the amount of waste we are living with, in our very shallow lagoon waters.
Predictably, the reactions among our little group included statements such as, “oh something must be done”, “why do we live like this?”, and “I have numerous examples of what happens aboard”. These were all very valid opinions, but in truth, we all knew that was where most of our concern would end. Which got me thinking; what can one really do about the amount of plastic waste in our waterways? On a regular day, it would be enough to gloss over the effects that this waste has on our environments, but today is not that day. We have to acknowledge that this has such a close proximity and direct correlation to our lives.
Fact: Plastic Will Outlive Us All
It is safe to assume that today we eat plastic. The wildlife that exists in the Lagos lagoon today is packed full of plastic waste. According to Telegraph: Tests on anchovies show that when plastic is mixed with salt water and begins to disintegrate it releases an odour which is similar to krill. The enticing smell sets of foraging and feeding behaviour in fish, causing them to eat the debris, believing it is food.
Simply put fishes can’t tell the difference between good and bad food; they see they eat. In turn, we buy the fish sold on/under some major island bridges and ingest the plastic ourselves. Thus, introducing health hazards into our human bodies.
Apart from the sea life eating the plastic that litters the waterways, the imbalance that has been introduced into the eco-system that exists in the lagoon today is catastrophic.
What Can We Start to Do Now?
We must start in our own little corners. That may mean the introduction of recycling processes which could entail recycling our waste (no matter how small) or exploring innovative ways of reducing our personal waste.
For example, I currently work for an organisation that is keen on reducing its carbon footprint. We started off by just recycling out of a few of our branches. Over the past two years we have gradually increased our recycling efforts and have also started exploring ways of upcycling. We may have a long journey ahead, but we have started. Here are a few other ways we can collectively change the current narrative:
PSPs to initiate recycle waste collection processes
Active encouragement of local recycle entrepreneurs – tax rebates, other incentives etc.
Create awareness and education materials for the general populace
Introduction of legislation to decrease use of plastic packaging
Support innovation that introduces alternatives to plastic packaging
Introduction of a plastic tax/levy
June 5, 2018, is World Environment Day and the theme is “Beat Plastic Pollution”
How apt. We need to begin to move our thinking about plastic waste. We must move past one-dimensional thoughts to thoughts around creating a circular economy. How do we move past single use, use-recycle to recycle-reuse, recycle reuse? One country is already showing us how.
The World Economic Forum recently shared a video on an impactful way Guatemala is stopping trash entering the sea by using special plastic catching barriers. They are called bio-fences. They capture trash floating on the surface of the river.
The benefits from this initiative are numerous: cleaner waters ways, reduction of trash, provision of employment opportunities for people in the area. A great example of the results that stand to be achieved when government and innovation come together.
We have to be better citizens of the world. Sometimes, we tend to over-complicate the solutions required when really all it takes is making a really small step. It has to stop being focused on the narrative.
I guess my question is, what are you going to start doing today in your own little corner?