From Issue 1
By the time you are done reading this, over four garbage trucks of plastic will have been dumped into the ocean, about four million plastic bottles will have been purchased and about four million to six million plastic bags will have been trashed globally. That is plastic that will never go away, because every single plastic ever created still exists.
I am Nigerian- from the most populous Black nation on earth- a country with a myriad of socio-economic challenges like poverty, insecurity, political instability, marginalization coupled with the increasing disregard for environmental protection. Yet, I have chosen to tackle environmental issues because I strongly believe that nature is at the core of all we do.
In September 2018 I co-founded the U-recycle Initiative Africa because I could see the way poor waste management systems devastated coastal communities in Africa; endangering aquatic ecosystems, killing biodiversity and threatening the lives and health of human beings.
According to World Atlas, Nearly 513 million tonnes of plastics wind up in the oceans every year; and Nigeria (0.85 tonnes) ranks 9th on the list of 20 major polluters across the globe. The impacts of plastic pollution on the environment and human health in Nigeria —polluted coasts, destruction of ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, poisoning of the food-chain, excessive flooding, the spread of killer diseases like malaria— is rising but the consumption, improper disposal and dumping of plastic waste increases by the minute. This prevailing issue calls for systemic changes and efficient policy frameworks at the government level alongside behavioural changes, informed actions and actionable solutions by consumers at the grassroots.
There is still a lot of work to do in promoting environmental awareness and education, because a lot of young Nigerians who see this problem around them may be concerned about the problem but do not know what they can do in their little spaces to address it. African countries like Nigeria are often used as an example of all the things wrong with the environment, but there’s still a huge gap between what we are doing to protect the environment when compared with western countries.
U-recycle Initiative is an award-winning youth-led organization focused on advancing a circular economy, environmental sustainability and climate action across Africa. As of April 2021, we have implemented over ten awareness projects (workshops, cleanups, city events, awareness walks, movie screenings, school recycling projects, environmental school clubs, youth development training etc.); through these projects we have engaged over a thousand youths across 11 African countries (Nigeria, Namibia, Gambia, Rwanda, Uganda, Cameroon, Zambia, Sudan, Madagascar, Sierra Leone and Kenya). Some of our notable achievements include winning the 2020 Recycling Heroes Award we received from the Global Recycling Foundation, winning a National Geographic Young Explorer grant and a Global Teen Leader Award from the We Are Family Foundation.
I used to think recycling was singularly the solution to the plastic pollution crisis —hence the name ‘U-recycle’— but as I delved deeper into understanding this problem, I discovered that recycling barely scratches the surface. Recycling serves as a good way to create value or wealth from waste but it should never be relied on as the only solution. Why? According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. About 12% has been incinerated, while the other 79% has accumulated in landfills, dumps or the natural environment.
It is evident that we can not recycle our way out of this ubiquitous issue. We have to turn off the tap. We have to solve the issue from the source by catalyzing systemic change (banning plastic production or use) and behavioural change (educating people on ways they can reduce their plastic footprints). U-recycle Initiative now utilizes a multidimensional approach where we ENLIGHTEN youths to take action, EMPOWER youths to create solutions to combat plastic pollution and CREATE VALUE from waste for the benefit of schools and vulnerable communities through recycling.
Our generation is on the verge where everyone has the potential to spark positive change no matter who they are or how little it may be. The plastic we use once for minutes tortures the oceans forever. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch(GPGP) is an example which clearly shows the disastrous impact of many negative little actions over time. The GPGP is the largest of five offshore plastic accumulation zones and is three times the size of France. It has over 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the patch. 54% of this debris flows from land-based activities like dumping, littering, massive consumption and improper management and disposal of plastic waste.
We all need to be intentional about what we can do in our little spaces to catalyze change. We need to do more.