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World Earth Day: Planet Vs Plastics

World Earth Day, celebrated annually on April 22nd, is a global event dedicated to demonstrating support for environmental protection and sustainability. This significant day, first observed in 1970, has evolved into a worldwide movement involving over 1 billion people across approximately 193 countries. The theme for the 2024 Earth Day is “Planet vs. Plastics,” highlighting the critical issue of plastic pollution and its impact on the environment.

Plastic waste has become a pervasive and growing problem, with an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic entering the world’s oceans each year. Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa, faces a significant challenge in managing its plastic waste, with only 12% of the 1.15 million tons generated per annum being properly managed. According to a 2021 report by UNIDO, Nigeria contributes 83 percent of the total volume of land-based plastic waste that ends up in the oceans, with an estimate of over 200,000 MT of plastic waste from land-based sources in Nigeria being discharged into the Atlantic Ocean annually.

The packaging industry is the leading cause of plastic waste generation, accounting for about 54% of the total plastic material consumed by application. Plastic bottles, lids, caps, and empty water sachets are the major sources of plastic leakage, with less than ten percent of this plastic waste being recycled. This alarming situation has led to the pollution of Nigeria’s rivers and water bodies, resulting in the decimation of fish populations and the loss of livelihoods for those who depend on fishing.

It is estimated that Nigeria uses over a billion plastic bags and PET bottles yearly. The per capita consumption of plastics has grown from four kilograms in 2007 to 6.5 kilograms in 2017, an annual growth of five percent over the last ten years. Nigeria accounts for 17 percent of the total consumption of plastic in the African continent. It is one of the largest producers, importers, and consumers of plastic polymers and products, and also one of the top countries in the continent leaking plastics into the environment. Polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, and polyesters constitute the four main categories of plastic imported by Nigeria.

In response to the growing concern over plastic pollution, Earth Day 2024 serves as a platform for raising awareness and inspiring action. Around the world, individuals, communities, and organizations are participating in events and initiatives aimed at reducing plastic waste and promoting sustainable alternatives. From tree planting and clean-up campaigns to educational programs and policy advocacy, Earth Day activities aim to foster a culture of environmental stewardship and responsibility.

Some of the alternatives to plastic disposal also include; reusing and refilling containers, using fabric bags for fruit and vegetables, and buying unpackaged goods can significantly reduce plastic waste. This approach encourages a shift in consumer behavior and can lead to a reduction in the amount of plastic waste generated. Eco-friendly alternatives, such as bamboo, coconut fiber, and cellulose nanocrystals, are being developed to replace plastic packaging and reduce plastic waste. These materials are biodegradable and can be used in a range of applications, from packaging to building materials.

The fight against plastic pollution requires a collective effort from all sectors of society. Governments, businesses, and individuals must work together to reduce plastic consumption, improve waste management systems, and promote sustainable alternatives. Earth Day 2024 serves as a reminder of the shared responsibility to protect the environment and the critical role that each individual and organization plays in this global endeavor.

By Francess Otti
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