Moving Nigeria Towards A Circular Pet Plastic Economy

What is a circular economy and why is it so important?

The World’s Economic Forum defines circular economy as “an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals, which impair reuse and return to the biosphere, and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems, and business models.”

In simpler terms, a circular economy seeks to eliminate waste and reduce the consumption of finite resources.

For plastics, this means reducing the introduction of new plastics into the economy, encouraging the use of recycled plastics by turning plastic products and refuse into new goods and limiting plastic pollution in our natural environment. Plastic recycling also creates profound and new economic opportunities.

Although the benefits of plastic recycling abound, in Nigeria, far less than 10 percent of all plastic waste produced is recycled.[1]

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Herein below are some steps Nigeria can take to become a circular PET economy:

  1. Use perpetually recyclable plastics: In April 2020, Science magazine reported that Prof. Eugene Chen at Colorado State University had discovered plastic-like material(a new polymer) that can be recycled infinitely[2], whereas normal plastic degrades as it gets recycled. The new material avoids the need to use petro-chemicals as well.

2. Product Stewardship Policies: There are six main types of plastic that are commonly used.                   Municipalities should work together to collect and recycle all six types of plastics.

  1. Packaging Waste Regulations:[3] The EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive are the main pieces of legislation governing packaging waste in Europe. The twin objectives of the Directive are to recover the full costs of collection and processing of plastics from producers and retailers while promoting research and innovation by the provision of funding. The Nigerian government can emulate the EU’s approach and can create policies that incentivize companies to refrain from using additives, coatings or colourants that make it difficult to recycle or reduce the quality of the recycled material.
  1. Legislation: The Nigerian Government needs to introduce policies that limit the use of plastics. A simple plastic ban on plastic bags for example in favour of brown bags or other material that are biodegradable or the introduction of taxes on single-use plastics and deposit return schemes will go a long way in the fight against plastic pollution. Single-use plastics are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. People want to reduce their plastic consumption, but it can seem like an impossible task when foods, drinks, medicines, and other items used in everyday life is excessively packaged in single-use plastics.
  1. Corporate Policy: Companies need to introduce requirements and incentives to change plastic packaging process. Laws and policies by the government must be introduced to incentivize and require companies to replace plastic packaging with sustainable alternatives that are either recyclable, reusable or compostable or composed of better packaging materials.
  1. Awareness Initiative: Consumers have the most integral role to play as consumer appetite has reverberating effects on the economy. As such, consumers need to be adequately educated on the dangers of improper plastic waste disposal. Recycling needs to be encouraged at all times and should be taught at every stage of education starting from primary school.

The fight to end plastic pollution can only be won via collective effort from consumers, companies and the government. All hands must be on deck.

[1] Culled from https://businessday.ng/businessday-investigation/article/plastic-waste-chokes-lagos-despite-potential-billion-naira-recycling-industry

[2]https://phys.org/news/2018-04-infinitely-recyclable-polymer-properties-plastics.html

[3]https://www.intertek.com/green/eu-packaging-directive/

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