Take a moment to imagine a world without litter and plastic pollution. Does it seem a little strange? Well, we have lived in a world so littered for such a long time that we have grown accustomed to it, to a degree of course, that the sight of cigarette butts, banana peels, or plastic bottles on the ground, just a few steps away from the dustbin is buried in our minds.
Many people may detest this scene, while some would do something about it; but their efforts do not have much to show for in themselves, because there are still a lot of people who wouldn’t properly dispose off their waste. However, with the rapid distortion of the traditional patterns of the climate, it is clear that we urgently need effective measures to tackle all kinds of littering.
This distortion is broad and far-reaching. It has resulted in extreme heat, heavy downpours, sea level rise, floods, drought, and insects outbreak. Consequently, it has made wildfires more common and severe. Other dangers associated with this are the spread of diseases, through direct and indirect contact with litter. Inclusive is the emission of harmful chemicals like black carbon, which are harmful to people and animals’ health.
These and many more dangers associated with ‘litter’ are what informed the decision of this present writer to examine the adequacy of the environmental legislations in Nigeria in tackling the above problem.
The definition of litter varies depending on the perspective that a writer chooses. Be that as it may, for ease of reference, litter is defined inter alia to mean “pieces of paper and other small objects that have been thrown out and are left on the ground in public places.” In a similar definition, it was defined to mean “[a] trash, wastepaper or garbage lying scattered about.”
According to a writer and a seasoned environmentalist, Mayokun Iyaomolere, in a lecture delivered on the 15th of March, 2023 during a virtual webinar organised by the ENVIROMANProject titled “Litter”, the seasoned environmentalist defined litter in a present continuous tense–littering–to include the following:
- The habit of throwing waste away anyhow, anywhere, anytime either on the ground, water, air, roads, drainage, windows of a moving vehicle et al;
- leaving waste behind at an outdoor or indoor;
- Placing waste on top of an overflowing bin and finally, throwing waste into a bin that is not yours or for private use.
Litter (or littering, in its present continuous tense), is rather a modern problem, as it was not until roughly in the 1950s, that industries started manufacturing in higher volumes litter-generating products and packagings, made of materials like plastics.
Littering is therefore, the improper disposal of waste or waste products. This can take many forms, however some items are littered more frequently than the others.
In a recent litter study conducted by Keep America Beautiful (KAB), a national leading community improvement non-profit organization,  it was found that items such as, cigarette butts, fast food packaging ( bags, cups, serving items), food packaging (wrappers, boxes, film, Styrofoam), alcoholic beverage containers, plastic bags, plastic bottles and construction waste et al., form the list of frequently littered items, while top of the list is cigarette butts which is estimated to be 9.7 billion in the United State, alone; and 4.5 trillion globally.
The study still went further to show that the post COVID-19 pandemic heralded an increased incidence of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), with an estimated 207 million Personal Protective Equipment gloves and facemasks littering roadways and waterways.
- The Actors/Contributors
Individuals, organisations, and industries are the three (3) major actors/contributors to litter.
Individuals: Personal habit such as laziness is said to be the primary cause of litter among individuals.
An expert in coastal resort development, Mabuyi Gumede said that littering is a habit. “When people do something more frequently, it becomes a habit. Once the litter pile starts to heap up, people tend to feel less guilty for their own litter they drop.” He went further to stress the interconnectedness of littering with neglect of responsibility by saying: “If you feel less guilty for the mess you caused, you will not feel the responsibility to clean it up.”
During the virtual webinar organised by the ENVIROMANProject, some of the participants who aired their minds stated that they litter because there were no waste bins around, while another said that “… in Nigeria, it feels like a normal thing to litter.” Others were guilty of occasionally throwing pieces of waste out the window of a moving vehicle.
Organisations and Institutions: Littering is, however, not entirely caused by individuals. Institutions such as the government and industries contribute to litter. Inefficient waste management, lack of vigilance by municipal authorities, lack of infrastructure such as litter bins in streets, and not properly educating the people about littering so that ordinary citizens would be able hold one another accountable when a fellow citizen is littering, are the faults on the part of the government.
Industries. Industries also contribute to litter when they’re not concerned or responsible to the afterlife of their products–the waste products.
This leads to the waste products wrecking havoc on the environment. This also happens when the manufacturing industries fail to conduct or conducts a poor Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)–(an analysis technique used by industries in assessing environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life cycle of a commercial product, process, or service).
Also, in so many occasions, many industries litter by dumping into water bodies the chemicals they generate without properly treating them.
- The Impact of Litter:
The impacts of litter are broad-ranging.
Litter can remain visible for extended periods of time before it eventually biodegrades. Some items such as plastic bottles and disposable diapers take up to 450 years to biodegrade, other items like Styrofoam which is 95% air remain in the environment for over a million years or possibly forever, therefore, posing an adverse impact for the climate and in extension to the ecology.
Some of the problems may include pollution and distortion of the traditional patterns of the climate, killing wildlife, encouraging the spread of diseases, and many others.
As litter decomposes or biodegrades, it releases chemicals and micro particles that are not compatible or natural to the environment. These chemicals, such as arsenic and formaldehyde, have the potential of making their way into the soil and freshwater, thereby poisoning them, consequently, having an adverse effect on both humans and animals.
Similarly, when some of these litter in the form of plastics, are burnt, they release a cocktail of poisonous chemicals that contribute to ozone depletion, and are harmful to the people exposed to the polluted air. Soot (black carbon) is one such serious pollutant which is believed to have a global warming effect up to 5,000 times greater than carbon dioxide.
Wildlife is not shielded from the adverse impact of litter. These innocent victims are affected by litter, every day.
According to UNESCO Facts & Figures on Marine Pollution,over 1 million marine animals (including mammals, fish, sharks, turtles, and birds) are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean. These animals die each year after being entrapped or ingesting the improperly disposed waste.
It was found that plastic litter is the most common killer of animals, particularly marine animals. Six million tonnes of debris enters the world’s oceans every year, weighing about the same as a million elephants.
Comparatively to the above-mentioned adverse impacts, litter can also serve as a breeding ground for bacteria and diseases. Litter can spread diseases, viruses, and parasites through direct and indirect contact.
Germs can be transmitted directly by physically coming into contact with litter. This can happen by picking up, touching, or by accidentally injuring oneself on improperly disposed waste. Also, parasites and bacteria are not excluded when it comes to transmitting to humans indirectly through an affected vector.
- Environmental Legislations:
Law acts as a code of conduct in society that regulates human behaviours and induces responsible attitudes and behaviours towards the environment, and this of course, can not be overemphasised.
To determine the adequacy of the environmental laws in Nigeria, it becomes pertinent to make a voyage to the extant laws governing the environment in Nigeria. To this end, recourse must first be made on the grundnorm and fons et origo, which is the Constitution. See Rossek v. ACB Ltd(1993) 8NWLR (Pt. 312) 382; Dapialong v. Dariye(2007) 8 NWLR (PT 1036) 332.
(1) Constitution: Under the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy, Section 20 of 1999 Constitution (as amended) recognises the importance of protecting and improving the environment and provides thus:
“The state shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard water, air, land, forest and wild life of Nigeria.”
The Implication of the above wordings entails that the Constitution imposes a compulsory duty on the state to “improve and protect” the environment. The word “shall” denotes mandatoriness of the provision. See. West Wisconsin Railway Company v. Foley
As established above, when litter in the form of plastics and other wastes are burnt, they release poisonous chemicals that contribute to ozone depletion, and are harmful to the people exposed to polluted air, like black carbon.
Thus, it is safe to say that fundamental rights to life and human dignity, as envisaged under sections 33 and 34 of the Constitution respectively are linked to the need for a healthy and safe environment in other to give these rights effect.
(2) National Environment Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency (NESREA) Act 2007: The National Environment Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency (NESREA) Act of 2007 which supervene on the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) Act, 1988 under Section 27 makes it illegal to discharge of hazardous substance into the environment, without lawful authority.
The offence is punishable, with a fine not exceeding, N1,000,000 (One Million Naira), and an imprisonment term of 5 years. In the case of a company, there is an additional fine of N50,000, for every day the offence persists.
(3) Criminal Code Act. Sections 245 and 247 the Criminal Code Act, contains provisions for the prevention of public health hazards and for environmental protection.
- Section 245 of the Criminal Code Act frowns at water fouling and provides thus:
“Any person who corrupts or fouls the water of any spring, stream, well, tank, reservoir, or place, so as to render it less fit for the purpose for which it is ordinarily used, is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for six months.”
By implication, the section treats littering of water body as a punishable offence.
- Section 247 of the same Acts provides thus: Any person who‐
(a) vitiates the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious to the health of persons in general dwelling or carrying on business in the neighbourhood or passing along a public way; or
(b) does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, whether human or animal, is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for six months.”
(4) Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Regulations (1991). Under Section 1 of the Regulation, It is an obligation for industries to identify solid hazardous wastes that are dangerous to public health and the environment and to research into the possibility of their recycling.
Section 20 makes notification of any discharge to the Agency mandatory. In furtherance, Section 108 stipulates penalties for contravening any of the regulations of the Act.
Other sundry legislations that induce responsible attitudes and behaviours towards the environment include but are not limited to National Environmental (Sanitation and Wastes Control) Regulations, 2009; the Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Provision, Etc.) Act. Environmental Impact Assessment Act (EIA),1992; Lagos State Waste Disposal Law; Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) Law; Kano State Environmental Protection Agency Law; Oyo State Environmental Protection Agency Law; Kaduna State Environmental Protection Agency Law; River State Environmental Protection Agency Law; Anambra State Environmental Protection Agency Law; Enugu State Environmental Protection Agency Law; Benue State Environmental Sanitation Authority (BENSESA) Law; and Abuja Environmental Protection Agency Law et al.
One of the unique provisions of the various state environmental laws is that they frown at litter by punishing in varying degrees acts like street obstruction, failure to clean side walks, cover refuse bins, or dispose wastes properly.
As the world keeps developing and the living standard increasing, there’s a corresponding increase in waste generation. There is, of course, nothing wrong with it as long as we find ways and means of proper waste disposal.But when the wastes are not properly disposed, it becomes a serious environmental issue that requires great attention.
In the account of Nigeria, regrettably, the actors are less concerned about the environment and dangers associated with litter. They litter the environment either in little or in high volumes. In turn, it costs the government a great amount of money to clear the wastes for which the economy also gets affected.
In Nigeria, there are several legislations either in the form of Acts of National Assembly or as Regulations derived from the enabling Acts of National Assembly regulating the environment. Similarly, each state of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), have their laws made by their respective Houses of Assembly. The various local governments also have Bye Laws governing the environment and in extension, regulating waste disposal in their domains.
The above laws and regulations and several others are indeed adequate for our country in tackling litter. However, it is doubtful if most Nigerians concerned with the legislations are aware of their existence.
To mitigate the ill-effects of litter on the climate, wildlife, and humans. There’s the need for people to be aware and sensitised regarding the problems associated with litter. People should be educated/ informed on the habits to get rid of litter both efficiently and properly.
Also the citizens ought to be informed of the various legislations regulating the environment and the punishment thereof in the instance of any violation.
Hence, there are small changes we can adopt to end litter and keep our surroundings clean and tidy.
(a) We should imbibe the habit of throwing our wastes in the dustbin.
(b) We should recycle, reuse, and reduce the plastics and other non-biodegradable wastes.
(c) We should avoid dumping our household wastes directly on the road or waterways.
(d) Avoid throwing plastic bottles, tissues, etc., on the road while travelling in cars and other vehicles
(e) Governments at the various levels should be keen in enforcing the anti-littering penalties, which are scattered across in our law books. This will benefit governments as much as it does the people.
(f) Government should provide waste bins in public places, and equally make it compulsory for offices, shops, schools, other commercial buildings, and transport vehicles to have waste bins.
About the Author:
Nweke Chinonso Caleb, is a writer and an environmentalist with a biased like for Environmental Law, Space Law , Artificial Intelligence Law and International Humanitarian Law. He can be reached at: [email protected]
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