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Goodbye plastic souvenirs and bags!

By Pedi Obani Iyayi

Nigerian wedding parties are just awesome! From our dazzling decoration, to the scintillating music, colourful asoebis, and of course the artistic makeovers or makeup if you prefer… Guests just turn up in their best because everyone is allowed to upstage the host, if they can!. Beyond the glitz, party jollof rice and other mede mede (food and drinks), no wedding party is complete without souvenirs! Don’t ask me how civil wars have begun over party souvenirs, which could be anything from a plastic bowl, to a mug, or an iPhone. I once heard of a party where the guests were gifted automobiles; never been invited to any myself, not yet anyway. Most of the parties I have attended have earned me plastics of different shapes and colours. As if that’s not enough, whenever I buy takeout in plastic food bowls or ice cream in plastic containers, I diligently wash the plastic and store for future use…But, my toddler doesn’t know this yet, hence she’s always so excited to spot the ice cream bowls, especially; unbeknownst to her, very often, what she’s looking at is a bowl of stew or soup that we’ve left outside the freezer to thaw. Story for another day!

I still remember the first time I started to really worry about the sheer volume of plastics in my immediate environment. That was sometime around 2006; then, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) was out to ensure that water vendors registered their sachet water products, to ensure drinking water quality. They did not seem too concerned about the leftover plastic bags and I found that to be rather disturbing! At that time, the sachet water, commonly sold for around N5 per sachet of 30cl, was the main source of potable water for domestic uses among the middle class and even some poor people in many major cities across Nigeria. As an undergraduate, I would consume around 10 to 12 sachets daily. You can imagine how much more was consumed by a family of 6, for instance. I have since stopped consuming sachet water, for personal reasons, but I know that my plastic footprint has probably quadrupled over the last 12 years. Even when I don’t get a plastic souvenir or plastic food bowls, I end up with a lot of plastic shopping bags and packaging from my household supplies.

Now, I hear that plastics are wreaking havoc to plant and marine life, and even the human body! I am not a fear monger, in fact, I am an unrepentant optimist but also very realistic. If we continue with business as usual, plastics will probably be the death of us all before we can afford universal access to technology for cleaning up the plastic mess! I can’t change the world overnight, but I have resolved to do the little that I can! A couple of years ago, we switched from plastic bottled water to reusable plastic water containers and a dispenser at home; that’s working well for us. My new resolve this month is to ditch plastic bags, even when they are being offered for free, and start carrying my own recyclable shopper bags. I still have a lot of plastic shopping bags which I will continue to reuse discreetly (for instance, to line my cupboards or bins or fill up small holes around the house) until they become write-offs. Sure, I will continue to enjoy our beautiful Nigerian wedding parties, but please you can count me out of the plastic souvenirs! I hope that this small resolve buys the oceans a few more seconds, at least!

Pedi Obani Iyayi (pedi.obani@gmail.com). Pedi currently works as a lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Benin, Nigeria. Her research interests include human rights, inclusive development, and sustainability. She also loves to travel, learn, and have a good laugh!

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