Vanguard (Lagos)

10 January 2013

Nigeria: Whatever We Do to the Environment Will Come Back to Us - Charity Musa

As the Holy Book says, little foxes spoil the vine. In other words, little things we think that do not matter are actually the major problems. One of the main contributors to the yearly floods in a state like Lagos is the indiscriminate manner in which wastes are disposed. People throw garbage into gutters, blocking them and forcing water to seek alternative routes.

Though the Lagos State Government has been up and doing in the area of waste disposal, it can't do it alone. To contribute their own quota, some Master's students of the Environmental Adult Education Department, University of Lagos, embarked on a project and enlightenment campaign that will go a long way in helping preserve the environment. A member of the group, Mrs Charity Musa spoke to Vanguard Learning on the project and what they hope to achieve. Excerpts:

Why we embarked on the project:

"This project is about sustainability, how we can sustain our environment. Our environment is part of us, there is no way we can separate ourselves from our environment; we relate together, we interact together since we are in an open system.

Every human being is an open system so in one way or the other, we interact. In fact, the relationship between us and our environment is symbiotic. We are interdependent on each other, we give, the environment gives and we exchange for our survival.

We observed that in most cases, what we do in our environment creates hazard to the environment. For instance, we don't sort out wastes, we just lump everything together - paper, polythene, plastics - we are now canvassing and creating awareness that such things are wrong. We are supposed to sort the wastes, plastics in one place, polythene in one place, papers in another place, glasses in one place. The plastics can be reused by various companies."

Waste bins in different shapes:

To help them in spreading the good news of proper waste disposal both to the literate and the illiterate, they created waste bins in different shapes to help users identify which bin is for what waste.

"The bottle-shaped bin is for bottles, there is one for paper and one for nylons/polythenes. The key part of the project that we are paying close attention to is the self-designed bottle-shaped bin and the idea is that if we have a waste bin that is shaped like a bottle, people will look at it, whether literate or illiterate, the concept of the bottle is to give them the idea that the waste bin is for them to put their bottle waste.

The key point of the project itself is the design of the bottle-shaped bin which we are thinking of patenting and introducing it to the outside community and if people can embrace the idea, it is something that can be used all over the place.

Anywhere they place this particular bin, people can understand that they should put their waste bottles there, it will go a long way in helping the culture of recycling which starts from people separating their wastes," she said, adding; "Actually, before we started this, we did something like intervention and awareness programme just in our department alone, as a case study. We kept some in our department, took some to the residential quarters so on a daily basis, we go there to check the outcome, if the people are really following instructions.

"By the first week, nothing came out of it, they still muddled up everything together. After sometime, we started noticing some changes, their attitude towards waste disposal was changing because initially, when we opened the waste bin for plastics, you will see pampers, sanitary towels, a lot of things, despite the fact that we labelled it Bottle waste only!. After a week or two, we started seeing that with time, people could actually change. After collecting the wastes, we empty them into the final refuse bin created by the school authority."

Creating wealth from waste:

"Recycling of waste is not a new thing at all but in this part of the world, it seems to be a new thing because when we talk of recycling, it's just a process, it's not an end in itself and we must realise that nothing is a waste. What you consider to be waste today was useful to you yesterday and there is this impression on the part of the public that whoever that recycles wastes has a very poor background. It shouldn't be.

We need to protect our environment. Again, in terms of the economy, it can help. In some places in Lagos today, you see women who go about picking plastic bottles, polythene bags,etc. And people are wondering, what is this all about? They use it as a source of income generation to sustain their homes and at the same time, take care of the environment," she stated.

The evils of environmental abuse:

"If our environment is well catered for, flooding disasters will be minimised. All over the country today, we are facing a lot of environmental challenges which could have been averted if only the people were aware of what they are doing to the environment. Even burning of refuse pollutes the environment and can affect human health. So all these are what we are trying to tell everybody.

"There is what we call environment sustainability. The way we use our environment today should not be at the expense of those that are coming. Whatever we do to the environment will eventually come back to us, like the so-called natural disasters we are witnessing today, are man-made disasters. Look at the hydrocarbon being emitted into the atmosphere, it causes depletion of the ozone layer and exposes the whole world to the ultraviolet rays of the sun and also increases the earth's temperature.

The arctic region of the world, the green land is ice, so when the earth's temperature increases, the ice melts and that increases the volume of water in the oceans and seas and what eventually happens is flooding.That is the problem we are having.

Again, when the ozone layer is depleted, it is likely to burn our skin which will lead to skin cancer. So the message we are spreading to the larger populace is that we must imbibe this culture of recycling at least to protect the present generation and the coming generation and make the environment worth living in.

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