Nigeria Slams a 3-Year Jail Term on Plastic Sale. Best for the Environment?

The bill recently passed by the lower chamber of the Nigerian National Assembly to prohibit the use, manufacture, and importation of plastic bags will likely fail to solve the country’s plastic pollution problem. Although plastic pollution is a global environmental problem and many countries have resorted to restricting the industrial production of plastics, the results, however, have not been absolutely positive.

A better option for the lawmakers will be to admonish plastic manufacturers to collect and re-use plastic products rather than ignore how it often ends in the oceans and lagoons. A classic example of this process is how the beverage giant, Coca-Cola went through with its policy of reusing old glass bottles to produce new ones—which was successful; It is even ready to do the same for plastic bottles.

According to the bill, any person found guilty of the offenses 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. – The Cable News

Despite Wide Plastic Ban, Environmental Population is Still High Globally

A report by the United Nations Environment and World Resources Institute (WRI) in July 2018 indicated that 127 out of 192 countries reviewed have adopted some form of legislation to regulate plastic bags. But despite these regulations, plastic pollution remains a problem. This is because bans in most countries do not cover the life cycle of plastics bags—manufacture and production, use and distribution as well as trade.

Also, Chinese authorities banned the use of plastic bags in 2009 to control pollution. But even after a decade, China remains the highest producer of plastic bags in the world. This failure is not limited to China. According to the data on global plastic production by Statista, the production of plastics in 2017 reached 348 million metric tons—expected since the first regulatory measures targeting plastic bags usage were only enacted in the early 2000s.

Plastic Bags Could be Environmental Friendly Than Paper

In an interview with a Chemistry professor at the University of Oregon, David Tyler, he claimed plastic bags actually produce less stress on the environment than paper or cotton bags. The professor noted that plastic bags use less water, require fewer chemicals, and their manufacturing produces less greenhouse gas than paper and cotton bags. In a direct corroboration of Tyler’s claims, a report by concluded that:

“…many believe paper bags are more environmentally friendly than plastic bags because they are made from a renewable resource. Thinking that the paper bags can biodegrade, and are recyclable. Plastic shopping bags outperform paper bags environmentally—on manufacturing, on reuse, and on solid waste volume and generation.”

This proves that even if the gain of banning plastic bags is to make the environment more friendly, we should always think about the strain it puts on users. Moreso, if the banning plastic bags would result in using paper bags as prescribed by the bill proposed by the Nigerian lawmakers, what about the fact that paper bags cannot hold water or anyway near durable as the plastic bags? How will small Nigerian businesses cope with the reform since paper bags are still expensive to afford? Even larger grocery stores that will be able to afford the change will still struggle to cope detriment when paper bags become costly.

Obviously, banning plastic bags will not only make life more miserable for poor Nigerians but the reform will likely not achieve its intended change. Instead of outrightly nullifying the use of plastic bags, the lawmakers should propose laws that will commit manufacturers to better recycling routine. If the recollection and recycling strategies are well-implemented, the result would not only save the environment but would also allow Nigerians a more convenient lifestyle.

Abdullah Tijani is a Writing Fellow at African Liberty and Local Coordinator at Students For Liberty. He is a law student at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Nigeria.  He’s on Twitter @AbdullahAtijani.

Photo Credit: Sander Wehkamp