Special Report: How local restaurants/eateries, ‘mama puts’, others hinder Lagos Government’s ban on Styrofoam usage [Videos/Photos]

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By Toyibat Ajose, Alagbe Elisha and Khadijah Adelani 

 

The subsisting ban on usage and distribution of Styrofoam and other single use plastics by the Lagos State Government might be another wild goose chase if the activities of structured and unstructured food chains in the state are not properly checkmated, NewsClick Nigeria reports.

Recall that Government on Sunday, January, 21 announced a ban on the usage and distribution of Styrofoam and other single use plastics in the state with immediate effect.

The announcement was made by the Lagos State Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources, Tokunbo Wahab in a statement he personally signed.

According to Wahab, the decision was reached following the menace which the single use plastics especially the non-biogradeable Styrofoam was causing on the environment.

He added that most drainage channels in the state are daily clogged up by Styrofoam through its indiscriminate distribution and usage despite the regular cleaning and evacuation of the drains that was tearing deep into the state’s pocket.

He reiterated that the larger chunk of littering across major roads and markets which Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) contends with daily is made up of Styrofoam.

Wahab explained that the state took the present action, relying on several enabling laws and regulations such as the National Environmental (Sanitation and Waste Control) Regulation 2009 which was established pursuant to NESREA Act that prohibited and specifically ban single use plastic in the country but has not been enforced.

Other laws, according to Wahab, include the 2017 State Environmental Management and Protection Law which states under section 56(I) (y) “prevent, stop or discontinue any activity or omission, which is likely to cause harm or has caused harm to human health or the environment.

“Our state cannot be held hostage to the economic interests of a few wealthy business owners compared to the millions of Lagosians suffering the consequences of indiscriminate dumping of single use plastics and other types of waste.

“The convenience of single use plastic comes at a huge cost to the society. We must all make small sacrifices for our collective well-being”, Wahab noted.

While the news of the ban was widely welcomed as ‘long overdue’ by environmental experts and some residents, however, it signaled the beginning-of-the end of years of thriving business ventures for some. Findings by NewsClick Nigeria revealed that this is not the first time the Lagos State Government is pronouncing a ban on use of single use plastics. The ban according to the commissioner was earlier pronounced some three years ago though without enforcement and much publicity.

 

Partial compliance in first few days of ban pronouncement

Random checks and spontaneous visits by NewsClick Nigeria team to popular malls, eateries, restaurants and bars particularly those in the outskirts showed partial compliance to the ban on sale and usage of Styrofoam from Monday, a day after the directive was made public.

Some of the sales attendants confided in our reporters that the immediate compliance was out of fear that the Lagos State Government officials might disguise as customers to their respective outlets to effect compliance and possibly arrest staff of erring companies.

“You will witness more compliance from outlets in the outskirts than those in the downtown. And the reason is because we are easily accessible to government officials likely to be on routine inspection once a directive like this is made. We still have the product in store but not on display. Our management gave immediate order since yesterday (Sunday) that the directive became public that we should remove the products from public glare,” a sales attendant of popular supermarket at Ikeja told NewsClick Nigeria.

“Please you will have to buy a plastic takeaway or bring your food flask. We no longer use the Styrofoam takeaway to serve our customers,” different sales attendants at various restaurant chains told our reporters who requested if they could be served with the ban products.

However, some seemingly new restaurant chains at Oshodi, Agege, Ikotun, Egbeda, Ojo and Badagry axis served our reporters with the banned item on Wednesday, January 24.

A sales attendant selling with Styrofoam on Wednesday, January 24, 2024

 

The ‘Mama Put’ menace

Mama Put refers to the unstructured section of the food chain business in Nigeria. A search on Google explained it as ‘a street food stall or road side restaurant.’ Here, anything goes. No direct or indirect regulation of the food making process. They are at major bus stops and almost every corner of the streets. They serve customers mainly with Styrofoam and dispose it on the spot.

NewsClick Nigeria engaged a few on the development.

A mama put joint at Ikate Eleguishi, Eti-Osa Local Government, Lagos

 

“What concerns me with government ban? Has government ever done anything for us other than impoverishing us and crushing our businesses at will? I’ve heard about the ban but what and where is the alternative? How many customers can be carrying coolers up and down to buy food? Some so called exposed people working on the Island buy dinner from me every night on their way back from work in this ‘takeaway’. How will I service them if they ban it?, she asked.

Food sold in Styrofoam (takeaway) pack after the ban

 

Another maintained that Government is only good at making orders that never gets enforced.

“We are used to hearing government making orders that fades away with time. Didn’t they ban Okada (commercial motor bicycle) on major roads a while ago? Why are those ones back on the roads now? Trust me, this order will not stand. At most, say a month and everything will go back to normal. And they will even get tired before getting to us that don’t sell in big shops with air condition (AC).”

Another Mama Put joint at Ogba-Aguda, Lagos

 

However, for Mr Ibe who operates four road side restaurants at Shomolu, the ban is good and signals improved response to solving the incessant flooding experienced yearly in Lagos.

“I’m in and ready to ensure compliance in all my restaurants. The takeaway packs are truly a menace but will take more than just a ban pronouncement to end its use. Government needs to reach out to people like us who operate closest to the people and enlighten us on their policies so we can in turn take the message to our customers who are very accustomed to being served with it,” he said.

Another Mama Put openly using the Styrofoam to attend to customers at Ogba axis

 

Government can’t just wake up and ban my business of 30 years plus – Styrofoam distributor

Mrs. Latifa Odunayo has been in the Styrofoam business for over 30 years. She is a major distributor and operates in Badagry. Now in her early 60s and fondly called Alhaja, she can’t imagine taking up another business at this stage of her life. She opened up about her fears to NewsClick Nigeria.

Alhaja’s shop in Badagry

 

Are you aware of the ban on Styrofoam in Lagos?

Yes I am aware but there is nothing I can do about it. This is what I sell and I don’t understand why they just ban it without warning.

 

How Long have you been selling it?

I have been selling this for over 30 years now. Although I sell other products like cups, takeaway plastics and the likes but Styrofoam is the major one. I know how many Styrofoam I sell in a day. This is what moves. We sell it for 1500 to 3000 per pack depending on the size. The other one (plastic takeaway) is for 8000 and above, How many people can afford that?

If people in church, schools, mosques and everyone wants to do programs they all use it, how many people will go for the expensive ones. The ban is not fair on us.

What will you do to the ones you have now?

Well, I bought it with money and ill definitely sell it. I have over 300 packs now both in my shop and at my store. I cant put it outside because I don’t know who is who.

I cant throw them away, ill have to sell them. I heard the ban is only in Lagos state so I may go and sell them in Ogun state.

Are you going to stop selling Styrofoam after this batch gets exhausted?

Honestly I don’t know the answer yet. I have been thinking since Monday on what next but I am yet to reach any conclusion. This is a business I have been doing for over 30 years, this is what I know how to sell. I don’t think I’m ready to stop selling or start another business yet but I’ll keep thinking. Will the government that ask us to stop provide another business for us? So if they cant, I don’t know  o.

 

Ban long over due – Expert 

Meanwhile, an environmental expert, Bolade Owoeye in an exclusive interview with NewsClick Nigeria said the ban on usage and distribution of Styrofoam and other single use plastics by the Lagos State Government was long overdue.

According to him aside the government ban, individuals should also make changes in their behaviours to reduce plastic usage.

“The use of Styrofoam and other single use plastics has become ubiquitous in modern society, with the material finding its way into everything from packaging and consumer goods to automotive and medical applications. However, as the population continues to grow and the planet faces the impacts of climate change, the plastic industry is facing increased scrutiny for its role in pollution and waste. While we expect the decision of Lagos State Government to create and enforce policies that will help curb this menace, it is also important for individuals to make changes in their own behaviour to reduce their plastic usage. Consumers have the power to make a difference and should strive to do so in order to protect our planet and its inhabitants,” he said.

Owoeye maintained that styrofoam and other plastics account for significant proportion of marine litter and adversely affect health of the environment and humanity.

“The average amount of plastic garbage in Nigeria is difficult to estimate. For places like Lagos, estimates range from 7.5 kg per person per year to 45 kg per person per year. On the other hand, Nigerians are using more plastic than in the past. Almost 850,000 tonnes of plastic garbage are not properly disposed of every year. Plastics are commonly disposed of by depositing them in landfills or burning them openly. Both methods result in cause soil damage and air pollution due to the presence of plasticizers and flame retardants in some plastics. Not only can open dump sites contaminate the environment, but items like plastic bags, Styrofoam, and straws are easily blown away from these sites due to their lightweight. As a result, they are prone to winding up in bodies of water. These account for a more significant proportion of marine litter than plastic bottles.

“Plastic waste greatly affects the health of the environment and humanity. The unethical disposal techniques exacerbate the impacts by releasing chemicals into the environment through burning or escaping landfill leachates. Like many other nations, Nigeria is experiencing more flooding during the rainy season due to higher precipitation resulting from climate change. It is stated that most floods in Nigeria are anthropogenic, as they are linked to poor urban practices and a lack of infrastructure. People’s casual attitude of dumping waste everywhere adds to the blockage of drainage routes and rivers; another factor might be the non-availability of drainage.”

 

Lagos postpones Styrofoam ban enforcement 

In another development, the Lagos State Government has postponed the ban on styrofoam and other single-use plastics (SUPs) by three weeks.

This was revealed by Commissioner for Environment and Water resources, Tokunbo Wahab on Thursday, January 25, four days after the announcement.

The commissioner said the state will offer a three weeks moratorium to all producers and distributors of Styrofoam after which the enforcement will go into full force.

“The number of lives that have been lost through the effect of the use of Styrofoam, the destruction of the ecosystem and aquatic lives as well as the menace brought upon the environment cannot be quantified,” the statement reads.

“As a responsible government, the lives of the residents are far more important than the profit producers set to make for the continuous production of Styrofoam.

“The only moratorium that the state is willing to offer all producers and distributors of Styrofoam is to delay the commencement of enforcement of the ban by three weeks after which the government will go on full enforcement of the law.”

Wahab said the government has had meetings with representatives of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and Restaurant and Food Services Proprietor Association of Nigeria (REFSPAN), noting that there will be “no going back” on the total ban.

He maintained that if producers had been more environmentally responsible, the government would not have had need to take such bold step.

“The Lagos State government has been having different conversations with manufacturers on ways to end the use of single-use plastics in the State despite the pronouncement of the ban over 3 years ago, but the government has decided to take a bold step to stop the use, particularly Styrofoam,” he said.

“The havoc and destruction caused to public utility by single-use plastics during and after the rainy season is unimaginable. If the producers had been responsible enough to respect the law, the government would not have had to wade into the matter.”