Commonwealth’s War on Ocean Plastics

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By Bennett Oghifo

With globalisation bringing about the exchange of products across countries, the need for packaging that is both durable and inexpensive has led to the exponential increase in the production of plastic materials in the last centuries.

With over 300 million tons of plastics produced yearly and less than 10% recycled, plastic pollution has become a topical issue across the world, primarily as it affects the water body.

Lagos generates over 13,000 tons of municipal waste daily, with plastic accounting for two-thirds of all recyclable material collected. A lack of infrastructure for the effective management of waste and improper disposal habits cause most plastic waste to end up in the Atlantic Ocean. The UN figures show 8 million tonnes of plastic – bottles, packaging and other waste – enter the ocean annually killing marine life and entering the human food chain.

Visionscape Sanitation Solutions CEO, John Irvine is tasked with leading infrastructural development projects across emerging markets. As part of the Group’s commitment to social impact investments, its business strategy is deeply rooted in building a sustainable business that does good. ” We aggressively push our recycling initiatives and efforts throughout our operations and as a Group has made significant global investments in assets and infrastructure that converts those materials into renewable resources from polymer manufacturing to waste to energy projects,” Irvine stated.

The company began the construction of an engineered landfill and Eco Park in Epe, Lagos about 18 months ago. The Epe landfill lies on the northern bank of the Lagos lagoon. It was opened in 2009 to serve as a backup landfill for three other main state-run dumpsites that have since surpassed their capacities. The Eco Park, the first of its kind in West Africa, will feature several facilities including a materials recovery facility for processing several types of waste. The on-site materials recovery facility will integrate the informal waste miners (scavengers) into the system to continue with waste segregation activities under better working conditions. The group operates a closed loop system with subsidiaries in the UK, Northern Ireland, Belgium, and the Middle East.

Over the years, concerned international organizations and governments have proffered solutions, allocated budgets and devised strategies to combat the ocean pollution problem. Efforts have seemed like the proverbial drop in the ocean as more sea animals die and get washed onshore with plastic debris inside them. Most recently, the Commonwealth of Nations adopted the Blue Charter, an ocean governance blueprint detailing the principles on how its member nations would contend with different factors that contribute to ocean pollution. A significant concern for the Commonwealth was providing the needed technical, research and resources assistance required by her member nations with emerging economies. In support of the charter, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged GBP 61.4 million. May said, “Let us begin by making this a more sustainable Commonwealth. That’s why, this week, I want us to agree a landmark Blue Charter which sets out the principles to sustainably protect our oceans.”

Visionscape’s Irvine goes on to say, “These territories are the most affected oceans across the globe, and unfortunately with some of the least developed solutions to the pollution problems. With economic growth and increasing consumerism, the reliance on plastics remains high as packaged products get imported in droves”. He concluded.

Ocean plastic pollution is a global problem that requires localized solutions especially in the countries bordered by oceans. The Blue Charter will include 16 principles and values, including environmental protection, good governance, justice and peace, human rights and gender equality, and recognition of the needs of vulnerable nations and young people.