It’s hard to pay attention to properly disposing of our trash when we’re walking down the busy streets of Lagos with its fast-moving activities. Not to mention the little to no presence of bins at strategic locations like bus stops and corners.
When we find ourselves drinking from that chilled bottle of coke or water, eating that gala, pure bliss or popcorn from their factory-made wraps, it doesn’t really occur to us to dispose of the resulted trash. It’s almost second nature to let them slip out of our hands and unto the ground.
I understand, I’m Nigerian and I find myself doing the same thing too. But I was in a workshop a few weeks ago and the facilitator said “Common is not normal” and for some reason, that small almost insignificant statement stuck with me and since that day I’ve consciously tried to sieve things that happen to me, the common from the normal. Our littering culture is not normal.
I’d hate to be one of the people to say this, but isn’t it weird how the Nigerian who wouldn’t look for a dustbin as he’s walking down the streets of Obalende would look for one if he were in New York. Some might argue that bins are more accessible abroad, but I’m of the opinion that they are often located in spots that you actually have to walk to. A Nigerian is likely to walk that distance if he is abroad than here in Lagos. Why?
First and foremost the lack of bins, labeled bins, for people to dispose of the trash they carry. A person can’t be sanctioned for littering if there is no appropriate place to dump the items that would be thrown on the ground.
Another reason would be lack of enforcement from the authorities. With the few bins available for disposing of waste Nigerians will not see the need to walk to a bin since there is no punishment for not doing the needful. I think that jailing people will be very farfetched, but there should be a form of sanction or at the very least the policemen should first of all actually use the bins and then reprimand any civilian found littering.
Also, not teaching it in schools- especially primary schools, is a huge contribution to our litter culture. If a child, say three years old, is told constantly to always find the bin wherever she/he is, even if on the road, to dispose her/his trash is she less likely to litter. Littering is a habit that was indirectly encouraged when no one told us it was bad when there was no punishment or reprimand. Littering is not an innate action and neither is properly disposing of trash; both are habits that are formed over the years through encouraging of one or the other.
Finally, campaigns. Last year there was a flood during the raining season, people couldn’t move around places in Lagos and the root of the flood was the blocked gutters. Gutters exist for when it rains the water can flow away and floods don’t occur, if the gutters are full the water is stagnant and the water that should have flown away becomes a nuisance.
Everyone knows why the gutters were and still are full; its litter, litter would be the reason. The litter was identified and talked about by reporters, but there were no campaigns to teach Lagosians about the importance of actually using bins.
Campaigns don’t always work, but there is a very helpful start for creating awareness on an issue. Because the government didn’t take the litter issue seriously years ago to wean Nigerians into the habit of proper trash disposal will require effort and they should be willing to put that effort in- even if it costs money.
On a personal scale, the decision to stop littering is important, one less person dirtying Lagos goes a long way. Yes, Lagos is a densely populated city, but if each person decides to actually use bins then eventually our gutters will be less cluttered, our streets would harbor fewer germs and our city will look more beautiful. Lagos with its many positive accolades is a very dirty place, different campaigns and bodies have been sprung up by the State Government to fight this, with their latest campaign being ‘Cleaner Lagos’ putting more public bins and beautifying different locations to keep them from trashing while also making the environment a more aesthetic and green. We hope the Lagos government can keep this up, and other states to join in. Private owned waste companies are also starting up to help support where the government won’t.
Waiting for the government to fix things isn’t the only solution. In our little communities, we can put bins to reduce litter culture or come out on Saturday mornings to pick litter. Anyway, we can reduce the influence of litter culture in our own little way is better than nothing.
Written by Onyemaruchechi Kalu.