The Plastic Bag Prohibition bill passed by the House of Representatives on Tuesday is an important step in tackling one of our country’s most pressing environmental concerns. The bill seeks to ban the use of plastic bags in the country. The lawmakers said the bill is to among other things address waste management and protect the environment.
The bill provides for “An act to prohibit the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging in order to address harmful impacts to oceans, rivers, lakes, forests, environment as well as human beings and also to relieve pressure on landfills and waste management and for other related matters.” In place of the ubiquitous plastic bag, the bill states that a retailer shall offer a paper bag to the customer at the point of sale.
The bill makes it an offence for a retailer to fail to provide customers with paper bags, to manufacture plastic bags for the purpose of selling, or to import plastic bags into the country whether as carryout bag or for sale. According to the bill, any person found guilty of the offences shall be liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding N500,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both such fine and imprisonment. It also prescribes a fine of N5 million to companies guilty of the offences.
During the House debate on the motion, Mohammed Tahir Monguno from Borno State said plastic bags have had an adverse effect on Nigeria’s environment. He said, “Nowadays we have a lot of plastic bags in our water bodies and they are adversely affected. So the bill seeks to regulate plastic bags to reduce the adverse effect on our environment.” Deputy House Speaker Yusuf Lasun however expressed concern that the bill did not provide for recycling, saying “There should be room for recycling.…Recycling is still part of cleaning environment.”
This country has many serious environmental problems including desertification, deforestation, soil erosion, flooding, coastal erosion, haphazard solid waste disposal, air and noise pollution, among others. The hazard posed by plastic bags is however one of the most ubiquitous. Approaching any Nigerian city or town, one can see from the outskirts the mess created by the rampant use of plastic bags. Almost every corner shop as well as supermarkets have plastic bags in abundance which they use to pack the items bought by a shopper. Since there is no proper means of collecting back these plastic bags, they all end up on the roads, bushes, gutters, farmlands, streams and rivers and in every open space where the wind blows them.
Apart from the ugly sight, these bio-nondegradable pollutants persist for years and years in the environment and are a serious menace to crops, animals and the soil. A lot of them are buried in farmlands and they impede the growth of crops and other plants. Luckily, there is a ready alternative to plastic bags. Even in Nigeria, sellers of akara and other food products pack them instead in old newspapers or old cement bags. Paper products such as these are biodegradable and even though they are also thrown away all over the place, bacteria degrade them completely and they become part of the soil’s organic matter.
Many African countries, including most of our Francophone neighbours, have already banned the use of plastic bags. Small scale industries can quickly pick up the challenge and begin to mass produce paper packs out of old newspapers, magazines and cement bags. Retailers should be made to patronize them in place of plastic bags. However, we foresee a problem with pure water sellers, whose discarded bags contribute a large portion of the plastic bag menace. They are a tough nut to crack because water cannot be stored in paper bags. We must therefore find the most appropriate packaging for pure water, which for now is a necessity in Nigerian towns and cities.
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