Getting rid of our littering culture

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Throughout human history,  littering the environment seems to have become a culture man has to deal with. He finds it easy to generate waste. But what becomes difficult for man is proper disposal of such waste or garbage generated. The culture of litter seems so much ingrained in our systems so much so that we are oblivious of the harm it causes to us.

Environmental experts argued that litter can harm humans and the environment in different ways. Hazardous materials contained within litter and illegally dumped garbage can trickle into water sources, contaminate soil and pollute the air.

Piqued by this horrid situation, an environmental and health expert,  Omogbohun Patrick, a medical doctor, has advised residents of Lagos State to display a positive attitude toward the environment to prevent health and environmental hazards.

Patrick, who is also the Medical Director of MercyWay Medical Centre, Ejigbo, Lagos, gave the advice in Lagos.

Noting that improved sanitation and hygiene practices are fundamental to healthy living, socio-economic development and well-being of the society, Patrick said being environmentally conscious and embracing the culture of proper waste disposal, would ensure healthy life for the residents, even as he said most of the diseases affecting human lives were caused by poor environmental sanitation.

He said: “The environment, to a great extent, determines the health status of residents. They should develop a positive attitude to the environment to make it conducive for healthy living.

“We are the by-products of our environment. We need the environment to live and live healthily. Many families and communities have paid severely for their negative disposition to the environment and our state is not exempted.

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“In the light of the recent outbreak of diseases in some states and countries, it is advisable that all residents be more cautious of the environment for the benefit of all.”

He, however, noted that for governments at the state and federal levels to have shown commitment to tackling environmental challenges, more needed to be done to achieve this.

He said: “Although some efforts at tackling sanitation matters have not fully been realized, certain frenetic policy guidelines, which aimed at bettering the condition have been evolved. For instance, government’s pronouncement that tackling environmental challenges in Nigeria to engender unpolluted environment for the health of all should be everyone’s business, should not be seen as grandstanding.

“Mindful of the dangers that lack of adequate sanitation pose to people’s health, government must intensify efforts in sensitizing the populace to why they must show greater commitment to issues of environmental cleanliness and safety by appreciating government’s efforts towards ensuring safe environment.”

Need for collaboration

The Medic emphasized that collaboration among critical stakeholders is required in realizing this target.

“Individuals, non-governmental organisations, corporate entities and government should collaborate to address the cultural, economic and social challenges that inhibit attainment of success with regard to environmental cleanliness,” he said.

To him, there was need for more advocacy programmes for the people to embrace change and comply with laws, rules, and regulations guiding their civic duties.

Patrick, however, urged government at all levels to engage various civil society organisations to ensure the protection of the environment by the people at the grassroots.

He also urged governments to engage more health officers to monitor indiscriminate disposal of waste and sanction defaulters appropriately.

He decried blockage of drainage systems with pet bottles and garbage by residents.

 What is Littering?

On what constitutes litter, an environmentalist, Ugomma O. Egwim said: “Litter is made up of waste products that have been disposed improperly, without consent, at an inappropriate location.

“To litter is to throw objects on the ground and leave them indefinitely there, or for others to dispose of as opposed to disposing of them properly. Larger hazardous items such as tyres, appliances, damaged vehicles, electronics and large industrial containers are often dumped in isolated locations on public land. It is a serious environmental issue.”

Continuing, she said: “Litter can exist in the environment for long periods of time before degrading and be transported long distances into rivers and oceans. Litter can affect the quality of life of both humans and lesser animals on land, as well as aquatic life.

“Cigarette butts are the most littered item as they are thrown indiscriminately. These butts take up to five years to completely decay.”

Throughout history, people have disposed unwanted materials on the streets, roadsides, into small local dumps or often in remote locations without fear of retribution. Before  now, sanitation was not a government priority.

To address the growing amount of waste generated by citizens, experts say, there is urgent need for legislative framework on solid waste disposal, which gives authority to the environmental protection agencies to regulate and enforce proper hazardous waste disposal.

Consequences of improper waste disposal

Environmentalists have explained some consequences of improper waste disposal. One of such consequences is air contamination. This, they maintained, results from wastes that contain hazardous chemicals such as bleach and acids, which need to be properly disposed of, and only in approved containers.

According to Egwim, some papers and plastics are burned in landfills, which in turn, emit gas and chemicals that hurt the ozone layer. Wastes that release dioxins are also dangerous and pose health risk when they diffuse into the air we breathe.

Finally, landfill gas produced by the decomposing wastes, can be explosive and can harm nearby communities

Another consequence of improper waste disposal is water contamination.  Hazardous wastes in the environment drain into ground water. This water is used for many things, from watering the local fields to drinking. Toxic liquid chemicals from waste can also seep into water streams and bodies of water.

Untreated sewage can threaten marine life that comes in contact with the contaminated water. It can destroy and suffocate marine habitats such as corals. Contaminated water is also dangerous and harmful to humans, who consume fish and other marine lives.

 Government’s efforts

The Special Adviser (SA) to Lagos State  Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on Drainage and Water Resources, Chief Joe Igbokwe said the way some Lagos residents dispose their wastes is not commendable. He said most flood disasters were man-made, adding that people throw wastes generated in their homes into drainage system, which eventually block them and make it impossible for flood water to flow as it should. He added that our waterways are supposed to flow unhindered but for the dangerous habit of throwing garbage into the canals.

Chief Igbokwe noted that building structures on waterways hinders smooth flow of flood water which eventually wreaks havoc on the people by destroying lives and properties, he said.

He appealed to Lagosians to make hygiene their priority, adding that when the environment is clean, people will be less sick because some germs that cause illness will either seize to exist or they are minimised.

Admitting that the littering culture has been cultivated over the years, Igbokwe said the most disturbing aspect of the phenomenon is littering of plastic bottles, which most times, find their ways into canals and other drainage systems. He added that there are efforts by some people to pick the bottles for some firms that engage in recycling them into new products.

Despite these efforts, he said, individuals should be committed to ensuring that the environment is healthy by not littering it, even as they should embrace the culture of cleanliness which, in turn, will engender healthy living.

On how not to enhance the littering culture, Chief Igbokwe revealed that his department has embarked on several advocacy programmes aimed at promoting healthy attitude to the environment.

“As part of our commitments to safe, clean and healthy environment, my department has embarked on programmes to primary and secondary schools to sensitise them to the importance of maintaining clean and healthy environment.

“If we succeed in inculcating in the young ones the virtue of cleanliness and commitment to keeping the environment unpolluted, then we would have, to a great extent, succeeded in achieving a culture devoid of litters,” he said.

 Dams also not safe

Recently, there was an apprehension about the grave environmental situation in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where it was reported that hospital wastes and plastic pollution threaten Abuja water source.

According to the report, used syringes and drips, diapers, plastic bottles and other pollutants litter the waters in the Lower Usuma Dam in Abuja, which is considered the only source of potable water for residents.

The development was said to have prompted the FCT Water Board to call for urgent actions to curb the pollution.

At a multi-sectorial dialogue on waste management organised by Stewards of the Environment for Sustainable Change Initiative (SESCI) with the support of the German Green Foundation, Heinrich Boell Stiftung Nigeria, the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) and the Abuja Environmental Protection Agency (AEPB), which held on February 19,  Deputy Director of the FCT Water Board, Victoria Anyakara, lamented the increasing presence of health care waste and used plastics in the lower part of the dam, adding that the board would do everything to provide safe, treated water for residents.

She called on NGOs, government agencies and surrounding communities along inlet water areas such as the Mpape and Ushafa communities, to take necessary steps to deter the public from dumping waste in and around the water bodies.

 Health implications of littering

According to experts, improper waste disposal can affect the health of the people living close to the polluted area. Exposure to improperly handled wastes can cause skin irritations, blood infections, respiratory problems, growth problems and reproductive issues.

Specialists in environmental matters maintain that “of all, plastic trash has the greatest potential to harm the environment, wildlife and humans.

“The debris harms physical habitats, transports chemical pollutants, threatens aquatic life and interferes with human uses of river, marine and coastal environments.”

Solutions

Wastes should be relocated to areas where they can be incinerated or disposed of, in a safe manner. When waste is removed from public areas, it helps to reduce risks to the overall health of the people, decreases exposure to biohazards, and reduces pest infestation. Access to nearby facilities that accept hazardous waste may deter use. Additionally, ignorance of the laws governing proper disposal of hazardous waste may have an impact on proper disposal.


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