Infrastructure as a Building Block of Diversification

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By Bola Adekunle

The dependence on oil and the need to diversify sources of revenue was one of the focus topics for a panel discussion at the inaugural FT Nigeria Summit hosted by Financial Times Live in Lagos on May 31, 2018. In a panel moderated by David Pilling, Africa Editor, Financial Times, experts across the power, manufacturing and waste management sectors analyzed the importance of infrastructure as the ‘Building Blocks of Diversification’ in Nigeria.

One of the panelist, John Irvine, CEO of environmental utility firm, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, highlighted a dire infrastructure deficit as one of the core factors fueling the ocean plastic pollution problem in the State and other emerging markets. Irvine extensively shared insights on the vital role of waste infrastructure in emerging markets.

He went on to say, “Emerging markets need to embrace and accelerate the development of waste infrastructure considering that these countries are the highest polluters and source of ocean plastic pollution in the world.”

Lagos, for example, generates over 13,000 tons of municipal waste daily, with plastic been 12% of it. With no structure in place to recover the plastic waste, they end in the Atlantic Ocean that lines the entire expanse of the State. The State currently gets its water from Ogun and Owo Rivers tributaries, which run in from Oyo State. The water from the lagoon in Lagos; polluted by waste from open garbage, untreated sewage disposed of in the water and open defecation and urination is unsafe for use. Authorities claim that while the water provided could serve 50 percent of the 22 million residents, over half of it is contaminated in the distribution network, resulting in high incidence of diarrhea, dysentery, and worms that render it unusable for various household activities.

Beyond the environmental, health and economic effect of ocean pollution, there is also the impact on the ocean and freshwater ecosystem. Endangered sea mammals including whales, turtles, and sea-lions have washed up on several beaches on Lagos Island mostly due to poisoning and oxygen depletion in the water bodies.

While many residents in these climes are not immediately concerned about preserving ocean life, the effects on the entire food chain tell on human health as we feed on animals and plants that are contaminated by the polluted water. Attention to environmental issues has become more important especially in the global fight against climate change.

Adequate infrastructure like a standard materials recovery and recycling facility is required to ensure that waste is diverted from being pollutants and environmental hazards to become resources.

Visionscape Sanitation Solutions came into Lagos State’s waste management framework with the mandate to manage infrastructural development. The company has since begun the construction of an Eco-park in the state to feature numerous facilities for processing several types of waste. Among these are the materials recovery facility, a recycling facility as well as the PET & HDPE Washing Line. In addition to the MRF, Visionscape also has in its strategy, a plan to integrate materials recovery in every phase of the waste management process in the state, beginning with the sorting of waste from the source; to providing facilities for sorting at the transfer loading stations it manages in the state.

Speaking further at the FT Nigeria Summit, John Irvine explained that the core of the company’s business remains sustainability, which is reflected in their closed-loop business model and focus on building infrastructure that redirects the improper disposal of waste and turns them to valuable resources.

Emerging markets are responsible for almost 70% of the global ocean plastic pollution; a result of poor systems to manage the collection and disposal of waste especially in growing urban areas. With rapid economic growth and increasing consumerism, the reliance on plastics remains high as packaged products get imported in droves and plastic bottles take the place of insufficient clean water for drinking. The use of plastic bottles and other materials is not commensurate with the structures put in place to manage the waste materials as they are generated.

This challenge was one of the topical issues at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London recently, where heads of governments agreed to a concerted effort to tackle ocean plastic pollution. With the UK government’s promise of £61m to boost the fight against ocean pollution, the 53 Commonwealth countries were encouraged to begin implementing policies and strategies to promote research capacity and improve environmental infrastructure and increase efforts to shift their nations towards a green economy. A major concern for the Commonwealth was providing the needed technical, research and resource assistance needed by her member nations with emerging economies.

In the wake of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, John Irvine shared his thoughts on how the company’s infrastructure development projects were in alignment with meeting the global objectives to curb ocean plastic pollution. He said: “The support and attention for plastics pollution, especially in our oceans, could not come at a better time.

The Commonwealth’s commitment highlights the need for effective public-private partnerships that connect expertise with the resources required to ensure that we meet the goals of the global initiative to curb ocean plastics pollution.”

During his conversation on infrastructure development at the FT Summit, Irvine also highlighted the opportunities that waste infrastructure provides across the economic spectrum. Beyond environmental protection and ending ocean plastics pollution, he explained how the presence of the materials recovery facility and many other facilities would provide job openings and improve personal economies across the State.

He spoke about technology being at the heart of the company’s activities. According to him, the company’s flagship project – the Eco Park been built in Epe, will feature an Anaerobic Digestion Plant. This waste-to-energy facility will be the first and a prototype in the State, the country, and entire West Africa. Receiving waste ranging from agricultural waste to household organic waste and industrial sludge, the plant will generate energy and provide power for the Eco-Park as microorganisms break down these materials. Excess energy generated will be distributed to surrounding communities as part of the company’s CSR activities. The successful deployment of this pioneering facility is expected to open the market and encourage more public and private investment in waste-to-energy projects.

Beyond generating energy and to guarantee the completion of the cycle in a zero-waste loop, sub-waste from the ADP serve as rich fertilizing material for farmlands in the vital agricultural sector. From farmland waste to energy generation and back to providing fertilizers for the farmlands, ensuring that nothing is wasted.

Rounding off, Irvine said: “Emerging markets can turn their high levels of waste generation to an economic advantage with requisite infrastructure, and the use of cutting-edge technology.”

“This is what we provide across the companies in the Visionscape Group” He concluded.

–Adekunle, an environmentalist, writes from Lagos.