In Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon alone, 50 metric tons of plastic fragments from food packages, straws and table water bottles and empty sachet water bags are drained into the Atlantic Ocean every day.
Over the last ten years the amount of plastic bags produced and used worldwide surpass the amount produced and used during the whole of the 20th century. Regrettably, 50% of the plastic we use, we just use them once and throw away.
If we can place in a heap the amount of plastic bags we throw away into the environment each year, it will stretch from earth to the moon and back twenty five times. Globally, more than one million plastic bags are used every minute and an average individual throws away approximately 185 kg of plastic waste per year. An average household dumps about 900kg of plastic waste in a year. Similarly, an approximate 500 billion plastic bags are used and 135 billion plastic water bottles are thrown away every year. Plastic waste accounts for around 10 percent of the total waste generated in households worldwide.
Every piece of plastic in the ocean breaks down into segments such that pieces from a single liter of plastic bottle could end up on every beach throughout the world. Similarly, almost every farmland is partially covered by plastic. Apart from the harmful effects of plastic bags on animals, plants and aquatic life, the toxic chemical from plastic waste are harmful to the human body when absorbed. A study has shown that apart from Americans who have up to 93% of people tested positive for BPA (a plastic chemical), level of effect are even higher in other parts of the world especially Africa where recycling and waste management policies and orientations are low or even absent in most places. Other studies have shown that some of these compounds found in plastic have been known to alter human hormones or have other potential risk on human health.
Alongside the hazardous risks on human health, over one million sea birds and over 100,000 marine mammals are reportedly killed annually from toxins originating from plastic waste in our oceans. 44% of seabird species, 22% of cetaceans, 32% of sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species, crabs and prawns are killed by plastics or have their habitat altered by plastic in or around their bodies. Plastics also degrade soil quality leading to low crop productivity and consequently poverty, hunger and food insecurity. This is evident in the polluted land fields and shores stretching from Limbe West Cameroon through Lagos Nigeria, Cotonou in Benin, Lome in Togo and the entire West coast and beyond. Billions of kilogrammes of plastic are visibly swirling over 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces.
Plastic waste constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. It constitutes 80% of pollution that enters the ocean from the land. In an ariel view of floating mass of plastic debris at the coast of Douala in Cameroun, the size of floating garbage could equal the size of Uganda. Recent researches prove that it takes over 500-1000 years for plastic to degrade. In samples collected in Lake Erie, 85 percent of the plastic particles were smaller than two-tenths of an inch, and much of that was microscopic. Researchers found that 1500 and 1.7 million of these particles occupy each square mile. This consequently means that virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made 100 years ago still exists in some shape or form except for those incinerated.
With the threat of plastic waste growing at an unprecedented scale, climate change will accelerate exponentially leading to increased ocean salinity; ocean rise; increased risk of floods disasters which could cause human displacements and consequently humanitarian crises. Another aftermath is hunger, diseases, and human suffering especially as a result of degradation of arable lands. Human security consequences include vulnerable to violence. Recent studies in Nigeria indicate that displaced people in refugee camps became easy recruits into terrorist groups where their desperation is exploited over a few dollars, shelter or a cell phone. As little drops of water make an ocean, our little gestures of improperly dumping plastic waste has direct consequence on each one of us. Now is the time to reverse the trends. We have no other planet except planet earth. It is everyone’s responsibility not only governments, to preserve, protect and sustain our environment for our own collective safety and happiness. Our policy system must actionably deliver both on the SDGs, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, SDGs, Paris Agreement, New Urban Agenda and INDCs. These are the task we all must be behind. The Choice is ours!