News / Africa

Nigeria's Plastic Bag Dilemma

Nigerian scientists experiment with ways to create biodegradable bags

Across Africa, plastic bags blemish rural and urban scenery, damage ground water and soils, and choke livestock and fish, entangle birds and threaten animals in general. They also block sewage pipes, turning them into safe havens for mosquitoes, which cause malaria.

They’re cheap and people don’t give a thought to throwing them away, but it takes a thousand years for them to decompose. When they do degrade, they break into small­ toxic particles that contaminate water and soils.

Nigeria's Plastic Bag Dilemma
Nigeria's Plastic Bag Dilemma

The UN Environment Program, UNEP, estimates that some four or five trillion plastic bags are manufactured worldwide every year, with only one percent being recycled.

Now Nigerian scientists are looking at ways to beat the scourge with biodegradable plastic bags.

The work is being done at the Biotechnology Advanced Laboratory in Abuja, a part of the government’s Sheda Science and Technology Complex.

Researchers are working to embed biodegradable starch in polymers, which are used to make plastics. Next, they identify microbes that would feed on the starch and cause it to break down completely into organic material, which would then be assimilated back into the soil.

Prof Godwin Ogbadu is director of the Abuja-based Biotechnology Advanced Laboratory.

"In this case, he says, "the microorganism we have isolated will use the polymer as its food and will dissolve it."

The Nigerian approach is not the only one. In South Africa, experts are developing plastic bags that dissolve into water and carbon dioxide in prolonged exposure to sunlight.

In Mali, experts are working using them to make paving stones.

Some governments are passing laws to ban or curb the use of plastic bags. Several economists argue that restrictions will lead to unemployment and revenue loss, while others say it will save millions of barrels of oil used in producing plastic bags.

They also say there may be economic gains.

Dr. Shola Odusanya is deputy director on the Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Laboratory, part of the Sheda Science and Technology Complex. He and his colleagues are working to reduce the amount of plastic waste with a process that breaks it down into powder. The Nigerian scientist says,

"The process involves using some proprietary solvents we want to keep secret because this is a potentially very big commercial project. One of the uses of this is water-repellent paint. Actually, one of our colleagues has developed paint based on this material."

Odusanya says the project will become marketable and will create new jobs. Litter bins for plastic waste will be set up nationwide, and people will be recruited to search through the dumps for plastics.

In some countries, like Cameroon, waste management systems are inadequate and environmental laws rarely enforced. In those cases, the approach is different. An eco-friendly artist, Nereus Patrick Cheo, has recruited an army of street children. Together they rake through foul-smelling refuse dumps for plastics, which Cheo transforms into flower jars, beads, statues and murals.

For now, the bulging heaps of abandoned waste, especially plastics, remain. And so environmentalists are hoping Dr. Odusanya’s project will be successful and can be used by scientists in other parts of Africa.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid