Challenges of waste management in Lagos

Photo: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images)

A recent United Nations Report noted that while developing countries are improving the access to clean drinking water, Sanitation is still a problem.  The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations International Children Education Fund noted in a joint report that over 2.4 billion people could be at risk of potentially fatal diseases if the waste problem continues to be ignored.

Currently, there are over 7 billion people living, a staggering number when considered in terms of potential waste. Wasteaiduk states that the Sustainable development goals cannot be achieved without the inclusion of waste management as a priority.

The issue of waste management is a global one. Various countries have developed unique ways to manage this problem and while some have achieved tremendous amounts of success, others still struggle. One of the impacts of cluster industrialisation is overpopulation. Citizens of these countries often move to the more economically promising cities (designated “big cities”)  where there are more job opportunities and belief of higher standards of living. The implication of this constant migration is overpopulation. Growing cities in Asia and Africa have been identified as the most affected by the waste management problem.

The United Nations has highlighted the lack of clean water and sanitary conditions as a major hindrance to socioeconomic development, particularly in developing countries. Waste and waste management must be addressed and actively managed as it is directly related to sanitation and will ultimately lead to a reduction in risk of avoidable diseases and deaths. The Millennium development goals (MDGs) developed in the year 2000 included adequate sanitation and waste disposal as a top priority to be resolved by the year 2015. However, Nigeria was one of the countries that failed to meet their criteria.

As one of the largest producers of solid waste in Africa with its most populated city–Lagos–being the largest producer of solid waste in the country, it is clear that Nigeria should have an effective and ethical method of waste disposal. However, due to lack of management facilities in the country, both local and national, solid waste management is an issue that Nigeria continues to face to this day.

Lagos state is a city built for 17 million people but is currently home to 20 million people (National Population Commission of Nigeria Report, 2016). Therefore, congestion and overpopulation are unavoidable problems. The lack of basic waste management infrastructure coupled with the city’s congestion problem makes it difficult to manage, which is taking a toll on the city and its inhabitants.

In Lagos, we find people living close to presumed landfill sites, which are not properly operated and leave the city with an increasingly terrible environmental and pollution problem. These sites have, over time, become health hazards. One of the results of lack of adequate waste management facilities and poor waste consciousness is people leaving and dumping waste in drainages, gutters and even the seemingly harmless littering. These materials then build up and block the water and waste passage in residential areas and the residents suffer the implications.

In 1989, the National policy for environment was formed with the goal of raising public awareness for waste management, highlighting the link between development and environment and encouraging community participation in waste management. The goal was to collect and dispose waste in environmentally sound manners and set up laws to ensure this goal will be reached. The environmental satiation practice- which was introduced in 1984 as one of the War Against Indiscipline laws during the military regime- was aimed at encouraging environmental consciousness. The yielding results are less than satisfactory due to the poor disposal infrastructure. Currently, Nigeria generates about 32 million tons of waste and Lagos Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) collects only about 30% of it according to bioenergy.com. Furthermore, the collected waste is not properly disposed of. Garbage trucks simply relocate waste to these hazardous dump sites or dump them in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Lagos State Government’s recently announced Cleaner Lagos Initiative- a major reform in the recent administration to improve the solid waste management sector- is to commence in the first week of November. At the Sensitization workshop on 2017 Water Technology and Environmental Control Conference and Exhibition (WATEC), the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode announced that a number of dump sites around Lagos will be closed to manage the issue of drain blockage and dumping waste in gutters and on roads. He announced a public-private partnership with an environmental utility group, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions to build sanitary landfill depots in Mushin, Lagos Island, and a recently completed one in Ogudu under the Cleaner Lagos initiative supervised by the Lagos State Waste Management Initiative. Visionscape Sanitation Solutions is to lead a group of environmental companies recently appointed by the Lagos State government to implement various aspects of the Cleaner Lagos Initiative. According to the governor’s 10-year contract announcement, Visionscape will also be in charge of the collection of door-to-door household waste. The waste depots are to oversee and provide maintenance services for the company’s waste management services and materials.

Beyond internal waste

Nigeria is one of the largest importers of second-hand electronic materials. At least half of the 600,000 tonnes of electronic equipment imported into Nigeria are second hand/e-waste, with Lagos as the city with the largest second-hand materials port in the country. According to Aljazeera, these electronic items are broken and torn apart for gold and other valuable materials. This practice is known as ‘urban mining’. This practice releases toxic chemicals from the way they are disposed of. They are either dumped on land or in the ocean or burnt, all of which would lead to negative health and environmental issues. Some of these parts are sold and used to rebuild other electronic appliances (mobile phones, laptops, etc.). The traders understand the implications of these issues, but are driven by the demand and what their customers can afford; they believe customers are driven by price and not the impact of the production of these items on the environment.


In a country like Sweden- one of the most successful at recycling and waste management- awareness and assistance tools have been used to ensure compliance with waste management rules. According to the director of the Swedish Waste Management’s recycling association, Anna-Carin Gripwall, the organization has worked extensively with communities to raise awareness about outdoor recycling and reuse. Sustyvibes, an organization aimed at delivering trends and engagements on sustainability and development in Africa is doing the same in Nigeria. The organization conducts awareness programs in various high-risk areas in states within Nigeria and educates the residents on the value of recycling and proper waste management. While corresponding with her via text, the founder of Sustyvibes, Jennifer Uchendu said that the recurring threats to proper waste management in Nigeria are lack of information and lack of adequate facilities. Available materials are mismanaged, making it difficult for those who are aware of the effects of our poor waste practices to dispose of their solid waste properly, but she expresses hope. Based on Jennifer’s observations, Nigerians are more open to the idea of recycling, people with incentives- such as monetary benefits and goodwill- are actively sourcing sustainable waste management practices.  Organisations such as Pearl Recycling– a Social Enterprise aimed at recycling solid wastes into art and decorations as a reuse method- and recyclables collecting ventures such as Recycle Points and Wecyclers are a few examples of social benefit organisations making a difference.

Government participation

One of the largest barriers to recycling is the manufacturing industry. In a developing country such as Nigeria, especially in rural areas, recycling and the idea of making profit through this process is almost unattainable, as the recycling points and collectors are mostly in the urban areas and virtually unknown to the people within these communities, but commercial and material goods like residue, plastic, and the likes, are sold and used within these communities and the end in gutters or burnt, causing further environmental and health hazards.

The problem in urban areas is beyond the availability of recourses and lack of knowledge. A discussion on twitter during a recent social media waste awareness campaign revealed that some people within these areas understand someone of the implications using non-decomposable/recyclable products such as plastic and Styrofoam, but are unaware/unwilling to use alternatives. For those willing to engage the environmentally friendly disposal practices, the lack of efficient disposal mechanisms makes it difficult and near impossible. It might be impossible to change habits and use of materials without implementing higher taxes or ban of these products and adequate disposal mechanisms.

Institutions and commercial spaces have a part to play in the improvement of environmental consciousness and advancement of recycling practices. Schools, restaurants and other establishments in countries with decent to high recycling success tend to use strategies such as separation bins indicating what form of waste goes in what pile and color differences are used for indication as well. Organizations who claim to be environmentally conscious train their workers, and we find that although they might not be able to influence all of their consumers, they are successful in managing their own waste products and instilling some of these practices in their employees. Accountability with regards to social and economic responsibility is weak in Nigeria, we find that organisations are not conscious of the environmental consequences of their practices because environmental consciousness is not much of a consideration in Nigeria and we do not demand this responsibility from organizations.

Beginning with environmental consciousness within schools and public spaces may be the best way to reach large groups. The government is responsible for providing better waste disposal materials and management infrastructure, but it is not the responsibility of the government alone. The UN recognized the health risks of poor sanitation as a major sustainable development limitation. Being more conscious about where our materials come from, holding corporations and organizations responsible for their waste and supporting the organizations making the effort might be the support needed to improve the quality of life and perhaps satisfy the SDG requirements.

Tomiwa Isiaka
Tomiwa Isiaka is in her head a lot, so she writes, because that's what you do when you're in your head a lot.. She likes the sun, and that's what all this is about, environmental sustainability to keep the sun alive