By Olaleye Abimfoluwa.
In early pre-industrial times, waste was mainly composed of ash from firewood, bones, bodies and vegetable waste (which were mostly biodegradable), it was disposed in the ground where it would act as compost and help to improve the soil. As city populations grew (and exploitation of natural resources became significant), waste evolved from being just solid biodegradable to being liquid (usually from agricultural, industrial or sewage sources), gaseous or radioactive. Space for disposal decreased, thrash increased, and waste piled up, the resulting filth caused stench, harbored rats and other pests, led to contaminated water supplies and perpetuated human diseases. People did not understand garbage was a threat until urban populations boomed. Societies had to begin developing necessary waste disposal (management) systems.
Waste is a term for unwanted materials i.e. materials that one has no further use of. It refers to any material or thing that is disposed of or intended to be disposed of. Waste when disposed improperly is referred to as litter. Waste management is the collection, transport, processing or disposal, managing and monitoring of waste materials. It is generally produced by human activity, and the process is generally undertaken to reduce waste effect on health, the environment or aesthetics.
Waste collection is the transfer of solid waste from the point of use and disposal to the point of treatment or landfill. Waste treatment refers to the activities required to ensure that waste has the least practicable impact on the environment. It should be mentioned that the benefits of disposing of and managing waste properly and efficiently cannot be over-emphasized. It conserves vital resources and energy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, protects air and water quality, reduces potentially deadly health risks, ensures environmental sustainability and also serves as a source of income for governments and private companies.
The focus of this article is to address the level of indifference of Africans and Nigerians in particular towards waste disposal and management.
Sometimes in 2004, I had the privilege of going to the cinemas for the first time with some of my cousins who just came back from the US. We got held in traffic and we had to buy some refreshments right there. We got the refreshments and after I was through eating mine, I wound down the windows and threw the wrappers of the sausage roll out. My cousins complained and rebuked me for doing the wrong thing by littering the environment, I had a ‘good’ excuse, ‘this is naija’ nobody cares. But one lesson I learnt that day that is still a part of me till this moment is to never litter the environment.
But the reverse is the case today in Nigeria and Africa. Too often we see people litter the environment, market women and mothers dispose of their wastes into drainages at the slightest sign of rain. Children and even adults defecate in water bodies or even in the open, polluting the environment. What could be the cause or possible excuse for this in the 21st century?
The steps towards reducing litters in our environment and ensuring that our wastes are well managed (i.e. collected, transported, disposed and treated) are not far-fetched. Just as was the case with me in 2004, education is key. If our market women and mothers are educated on the hazards of carelessly disposing their wastes, they would probably have a change of attitude as their current orientation is that “the rain takes the wastes away”. If only they knew that ‘away’ is some ones backyard and the wastes are probably causing some terminal and contagious disease which might get back to affect them. Environmental elites should go beyond social media campaigns and do more wherever they are to ensure a clean and green environment. Waste management and the ensuring of a cleaner, greener and sustainable environment is not solely the responsibility of the government as most people think. Everyone, parents and children, young and old alike should be well informed and educated on the deleterious effects of poor waste disposal.
Foot agents/ extentionists should be employed to re-orient people on the hazards of wrong waste disposal and the need for a green environment, materials such as waste disposal bags and bins should be distributed and waste trucks should be available to collect wastes regularly. Sanitation days should be taken more seriously, and health inspectors can be employed to carry out regular inspection of the environment. Legislation should be made to punish environmental offenders as some people learn only by force, the government should empower the necessary agencies e.g. NESREA and EPAs financially and legally to create more accessible waste collection and recycling outlets as well as enforce the environmental laws. Private companies should also be given proper incentives to help in managing wastes better. After all, wastes when poorly managed is a threat to human life and too much can never be done in managing it.
Olaleye Abimfoluwa Gideon is a multi-talented cheerful and easy going young man; very thoughtful, God-fearing and an ambassador of progressive courses. He is a graduate of Soil Science from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and has a huge passion for the conservation and sustainability of the environment, as well as eradicating poverty and starvation. His hobbies are reading, writing thought-provoking articles, singing and watching football. He tweets from @olabimfolu and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.