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Environmental Effects Of Polystyrene, Styrofoam Disposable Food Packs In Nigeria

 

The Oasis Reporters

October 29, 2018

By Mike Odeh James
Disposable Food Packs In Nigeria

Everyday, millions of Nigerians consume food from eateries like kiosks, restaurants, bars, and many other fast food joints. On most occasions, the food, fish, pepper soup etc are packed in specially designed takeaway plates or disposable packs. Similarly, coffee, tea and ice-cream are well packed in designer cups meant to be taken away and disposed off after use.

STAGGERING FIGURES

According to research released by Oxford Business Group, in 2014, Nigeria had over 8,000 fast food restaurants employing over 500,000 Nigerians to service her customers. These figures as at today would have doubled or even tripled resulting in more fast food restaurants and more employment for the Nigerian populace.

We have varying kinds of restaurants in Nigeria ranging from the “Mama Put” to the more modern Quick Service Restaurants or eateries. The Mama Put which is also known as “Bukka” has been in existence long before the advent of quick service restaurants or eateries and has more patronage than the fast food spots, hotels and other eateries in the country. It is cheap to operate, more accessible and therefore affordable to all.

Research has shown that practically every major business area has an average of 30 “Mama Put” spots in some localities in Nigeria. Thus if every Local Government Area has an average of 30 Mama Put joints, it would amount to 23,220 such joints selling food to Nigerians on a daily basis. But the real figure is much higher.

According to reports by Leadership Newspaper dated September 7th, 2015, more than a million Nigerians patronize Mama Put Restaurants daily.
Both the fast food restaurants and the ‘Mama Put’ serve take away or take out foods to its customers in disposal food packs on a daily basis.
Going by the given statistics, it would be right to say both the fast food restaurants and Mama Put, serve over 500, 000 disposal food packs to Nigerians every day.
Interestingly, with the huge number of mama puts and fast food spots, Nigeria has only 6,700 Environmental Health Officials to regulate/monitor their activities.

TAKEAWAYS/TAKEOUT FOOD PACKS AND OUR ENVIRONMENT

Ordinarily the boom in fast food and Mama Puts in Nigeria translates into billion naira investments in our economy but then close to over 500,000 takeaway or takeout cups, plates are churned out every day as waste to the environment or our surroundings.
Most of these takeaways are made from polystyrene and they are altogether called Styrofoam cups and plates.
First and foremost, these Styrofoam takeaway packs are non-biodegradable. That means that they could last for over 400 years without decomposition. In this case, they constitute solid waste to our environment that won’t go away over a long period of time, releasing harmful chemicals into the soil.
Thus we have dumpsites made up mainly of disposed plastics and Styrofoam.

Secondly, another major way Nigerians dispose of this Styrofoam cups and plates is to dump them into running water or drainages. Again, they would clog together in the water and obstruct water flow which leach substances into the water. Over time, they become poisonous.
Burning is the most favorite ways by which Nigerians dispose off takeaways, though in small quantities. Styrofoam do not constitute much danger to the environment this way, however it releases huge amounts of carbon monoxide which is very hazardous to our environment.
And with over 500,000 churned out each day and burned continually the amount of carbon monoxide released may be too high constituting higher environmental hazards.

HUMAN ANGLE

According to health experts, the use of Styrofoam packs pose very huge health challenges in the society and most people are not aware. Studies have shown that these food packs leach chemicals into consumable items especially at high temperatures making such foods carcinogenic and poisonous for human consumption. Styrofoam contains the chemical styrene (a colorless oily liquid that leaches when eating foods packed in a polystyrene container) which has been linked to cancer, vision and hearing loss, impaired memory and concentration and nervous system effects, the list goes on. It could also lead to vomiting, nausea, headaches, and diarrhea as an immediate side effect.

Health experts have also stressed that If you drink beverages from polystyrene/Styrofoam cups four times a day for three years, you may have consumed about one foam cup’s worth of styrene along with your beverages!
Styrene short term levels of exposure can cause eye, nose and throat irritation while the long term levels of exposure can cause dizziness.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE

With the burgeoning number of fast food joints/restaurants in Nigeria and the dwindling number of environmental health workers, it is imperative that the citizenry act as the layer of health workers to stop any form of human and environmental hazards.
Always remember that you can never be wrong with a Biodegradable plastic cup or plate if in doubt at any point in time.

Here are few tips to adopt so as to curtail the use of Styrofoam cups:

1. Use plastic plates or cups, mugs and glass cups

2. Insist on being served with glass cups, plates when you go to food spots

3. Styrofoam cups: Be aware of the harmful effects of using polystyrene
products and tell others.

4. Use reusable cups at work instead of foam cups.

5. When shopping for groceries, select items that are unwrapped, or wrapped in non-polystyrene materials: (e.g. vegetables, eggs, meat)

6. Ask local takeaway restaurants and food suppliers to use a more environmentally friendly form of food packaging other than
Styrofoam. Many food packaging alternatives made from materials such as post-consumer recycled paper and corn-plastics are now available.

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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