Drinking and dropping : on interacting with plastic pollution and waste in south-eastern Nigeria

Henderson, Lesley and Dumbili, Emeka (2021) Drinking and dropping : on interacting with plastic pollution and waste in south-eastern Nigeria. Worldwide Waste : Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 4 (1). 3. ISSN 2399-7117 (https://doi.org/10.5334/wwwj.59)

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Nigeria is reported as having released up to 0.34 million tonnes of plastic debris into the ocean in 2010 and ranked as the ninth country in the world for pollution of the marine environment. It is a postcolonial, oil rich country where plastic is cheap and widely available. Currently there is no government policy regulating single-use plastic products. Previous studies have identified university student residential areas as 'hot spots' for plastic waste. We used qualitative methods (focus groups and semi-structured interviews) to explore how students made sense of their single use plastics consumption (including 'pure water' plastic sachets) and analysed how young Nigerians interact with plastic waste. Students perceived plastic waste as malodorous, causing harm to human health and blighting environmental aesthetics. Students saw themselves as the cause of plastic pollution (as consumers) whereas plastic industries were framed positively as producers bringing progress and prosperity. Participants were open about their indiscriminate littering practices subverting other study findings where responsibility tends to be deflected (to policy makers, producers). While we are relying on self-reported behaviour, we found no obvious link between awareness of environmental harm caused by plastic pollution and students' actions. Within this peer group of young Nigerians, it was not considered 'normal' or 'cool' socially to use waste bins or recycle. We suggest that further research is needed into how plastic pollution is made sense of in terms of individual responsibility; lay understandings of miasmas; perceptions of public/private spaces and plastics as a signifier of modernity; and enhanced social status.