From trash-strewn sidewalks to street vendors packing their meals in polystyrene containers, plastic waste is an integral part of the urban landscape of Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital and the continent’s most populous city. An image that could soon change as the local government has just banned the use of polystyrene and single-use plastic.

“Polystyrene boxes are cheaper than reusable plastic ones,” Cecilia Mathew, 20, who sells dishes made from rice, meat and gari, cassava flour, told AFP on the streets. of the popular district of Obalende in Lagos. “We’re not going to put the food in bags,” says Funmilayo Oresanya, 43, also a street food seller, a “Mama Put” as they are called in local slang.

The announcement of the ban on polystyrene boxes and single-use plastics, “with immediate effect”, was made on Sunday evening, January 28, by Tokunbo Wahab, the Lagos State environment commissioner, on his account

“It’s too sudden,” Kehinde Bakare, 61, a polystyrene box seller, told AFP. “The government must give us time: what will the people who make a living from this do? », questions the one who asks for “substitutes”.

The issue of waste management is central

Nigerian fast-food chain Food Concepts, known for its popular restaurants Chicken Republic, PieXpress and The Chopbox, “applauded” the measure, saying in a statement Monday it was “beginning its transition” to end polystyrene boxes and encouraging its customers “to come with their own containers”.

Also on his X account, Tokunbo Wahab published a video on Tuesday showing health workers carrying out checks in the city. But if the environmental emergency is unanimous, the concrete implementation of the measure arouses some skepticism.

Folawemi Umunna, co-founder of the NGO Initiative for Climate and Ecological Protection, considers the decision to eliminate non-biodegradable materials positive if Lagos State correctly manages its action plan. “This is great news for the environment at many levels and if implemented effectively, it will significantly reduce tonnes of CO2 emissions in Lagos State,” he said. she told AFP on Monday.

In 2019, Nigerian MPs passed a law banning plastic bags, but it remained a dead letter because it did not complete its legislative process. In the megacity of more than 20 million inhabitants, the issue of waste management is central as rubbish regularly blocks sewers and evacuation pipes, particularly during the rainy season, causing floods and promoting the proliferation of mosquitoes, vectors of malaria, in stagnant water.

“Many people are going to be impoverished.”

Nigeria is “Africa’s second largest importer of plastics”, according to the German Heinrich-Böll Foundation, accounting for “17% of the continent’s plastic consumption” and “more than 130,000 tonnes of plastic end up in Nigerian waters each year”. . “If nothing is done, imports and consumption of plastics will exceed 40 million tonnes by 2030,” she warned in a 2020 report.

Plastic microparticles “are ingested by animals and can be found in human beings”, explains to AFP Temitope Olawunmi Sogbanmu, ecotoxicologist at the University of Lagos, who insists on the “non-degradable” nature of these materials. But if the ban on polystyrene and single-use plastic is “good news”, believes the scientist, she nevertheless fears “the socio-economic consequences” of this measure on “those whose income depends on this value chain”. .

Sellers of food but also of water in plastic bags, waste collectors, many are those who depend on this informal economy in a country which is undergoing a deep economic crisis with a tripling of fuel prices since the coming to power in May of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and inflation at almost 29% in December over the last twelve months.

“Many people will be impoverished, it will become even more difficult to obtain the essentials,” said Ms. Sogbanmu, who advocates the implementation of “strategic interventions especially for the poorest people so that they survive and do not do not turn to illegal solutions. “The government must ask people what they want and how it can support them,” agrees Oluwaseyi Moejho, environmental activist, “enthusiastic” by the Lagos government’s measure. “There used to be a plastic-free Nigeria, we can do it again,” says the activist. “I recognize that the use of plastic is practical but if it is to the detriment of our health and our future, it is too expensive to pay,” she adds.