By Dr. Muyiwa Gbadegesin
Just recently, the Lagos State Government introduced the Blue Box initiative – a waste collection programme designed to help residents sort recyclable waste from the source, that is, at the point where an item or material is considered waste. This eliminates the landfill process for recyclables, and we see this as a long term step by step and collaborative approach, to engage with the everyday Lagosian in our journey to a sustainable waste free environment.
Waste management is generally an inclusive practice which requires active participation and cooperation from individuals and the government, both driving a 2-way agenda to ensure a cleaner Lagos. It is important for people to understand the consequences of uncontrolled waste, as it could be very costly to both the society and the economy with significant health and environmental impacts linked to air, soil and water contamination.
The global waste management outlook report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) identifies waste as a global issue which concerns everyone and also studies how society consumes and produces waste especially in the urban areas. Here, effective waste management is seen as a basic human need, sitting alongside the provision of potable water, shelter, food, energy, transport and other social amenities. This lays emphasis on how important the effective management of waste can greatly impact productivity and economic prosperity both from global and local levels.
According to research, Nigeria is one of the largest waste producers in Africa, with an annual waste generation of more than 32 million tons. For Lagos state which is highly industrialized and one of the fastest growing cities in Nigeria and Africa with about 22 million people, we generate about 10,000 metric tons of waste daily, which makes an average of 3.65 million tons per year. This means that more than any other state in Nigeria, the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) has a responsibility to ensure that waste is managed appropriately, especially starting from the household and family levels. Till date, we have increased private sector participation (PSP) by 32 per cent, expanding access in the waste collection and transportation systems across Lagos state.
Looking at the direct impact of improper waste management, this can be linked to two major aspects – public health and environmental pollution. Accumulated waste encourages organisms to breed, causing infectious and bacterial diseases especially for children. It also affects drinking water and can cause a widespread cholera outbreak, popular in some of the rural areas within Lagos. For the environment, this poses a serious threat to surface and groundwater, investors and tourist activities.
Effective waste management collection, transportation and disposal processes, with the help of LAWMA and the PSPs, have become a very simplified procedure. First and most importantly, residents are encouraged to reduce activities associated with waste production, so that we can see a significant decrease in the amount of waste generated daily. Then it is also necessary for accumulated waste to be properly sealed and disposed in the waste storage materials provided by our agency across Lagos. Once this is done, the collection and transportation by the PSPs to the local landfills becomes a very straightforward and effective process and the cycle continues.
While we continue to work to ensure our environment is clean and healthy, we must emphasize the need for an urgent shift in attitudes towards waste disposal by residents across Lagos state. Indiscriminate refuse disposal practices have proven to cause severe problems in our efforts to sustaining a waste free society. In managing this, we have involved in several educational waste management programs like the Community Advocacy and CDA/CDC Interaction, to create awareness on how we all have a role to play in keeping the environment healthy. The state of our environment is an integral part of the quality of life we receive as humans. A cleaner environment inherently contributes to better livelihood for us, our children and many generations to come.
As an organization, our mandate is to ensure a more secure, clean and prosperous state. Our vision is to build a smart city which was a strong objective in the development of this initiative with components such as Residential Waste Collection and Processing, Commercial/ Industrial Waste Collection, Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Drainage Maintenance, Provision of Engineered/ hazardous Sanitary Landfill and Manual/ Mechanized Street Sweeping.
Through this initiative, LAWMA have successfully introduced 62 compactors, more than 380 waste bins, with over 600 community sanitation workers. Some of our results so far have been significant.
In our journey to building the future of a sustainable waste free environment for all, we have prioritized recycling, positioning it at the top of the agenda. We are challenged as a government to invest in solid waste recycling, exporting biodegradable waste which can be processed to high quality agricultural manure and other raw materials for several industries. Plastic wastes have also proven to generate wealth through recycling in the production of home and other domestic reusable items.
Recycling also creates jobs and in a broader sense, it is a significant contributor to our economy through the foreign exchange earnings associated with exporting waste. Small, medium to large scale companies are gradually exploring new ways on how to generate wealth from waste which buttresses our efforts at LAWMA in ensuring that waste collection can be simplified with initiatives such as the Blue Box, to help people sort waste for recycling.
Socio economically, the state of our health and well-being affects the level of productivity which can either be positive or negative. A healthy nation is a wealthy nation, and we can only come together to build a sustainable and healthy environment if we collaborate to effectively manage the disposal, collection, transportation and recycling of our waste.
We must ensure a cleaner Lagos with how we manage waste and we must begin to see the future of a waste-free Lagos, driving us to the future of a smart city. A cleaner Lagos is a better Lagos, and we remain optimistic about sustaining our environment, driving foreign direct investment and maintaining our position as one of the largest commercial hubs in Africa and the world.
With natural disasters occurring across the world, partly as a result of environmental abuse, it should be considered a wise option for everyone to have a rethink about our attitude to the environment. It is whatever we give to the environment that it gives back to us. It is that simple!
Gbadegesin is the Chief Executive Officer of Lagos State Waste Management Agency