Aviation stakeholders in the country are worried over the 200,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste generated in the industry annually which end up polluting the environment apart from impeding the health of the populace.

This monumental volume of hazardous substances, according to the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, Engineer Saleh Dunoma, eventually finds its way into the nation’s water bodies and immediate environment where they endanger both human and animal species.

Engineer Dunoma was speaking on the occasion of the 2018 World Environment Day, tagged by the United Nations, “Beat Plastic Pollution”.

According to him, the situation becomes more worrisome as Nigeria is ranked as one out of 20 nations in the world with the worst plastic waste management strategies and policies.

In his welcome address read on his behalf by the Agency’s Director of Engineering Services, Engr. Salisu Daura, the FAAN boss reiterated the importance of integrating human interactions in our development plans in order to ensure a safe and healthy environment.

He joined the global environment body to point our attention to the challenges of plastic pollution coming from all facets of human activities.

He noted that certain airport facilities and even aircraft parts had plastic components in addition to consumer products packaged in plastic containers, pointing out that the waste generated from these have negative impact on human health and the ecology.

He, therefore, pledged that FAAN would do everything possible to ensure that all plastic materials and other wastes generated around the nation’s airports are properly disposed to prevent the hazards associated with them.

To mark this year’s World Environment Day, FAAN, in its bid to ensure a clean and safe airport environment, had collaborated with the Nigeria Environment Society (NES) to sensitise the general public on the danger posed by plastic waste.

In his Goodwill Message at the occasion, the Commissioner/CEO, Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB),  E Eng.r Akin Olateru, stated that plastic is composed of toxic pollutants and as such has potential to cause great harm to the environment in the form of air, water and land pollution.

Plastic pollution, the AIB boss explained, occurs when plastic has gathered in an area and has begun to negatively impact the natural environment and create problems for plants, wildlife and even human population.

While explaining the danger posed by plastic products, he stated that: “Of a fact, plastic is an incredibly useful material but it is also made from toxic compounds known to cause illness and because it is meant for durability it is not biodegradable.

“Plastic is nearly impossible to break down. Burning plastic is incredibly toxic and can lead to harmful atmospheric conditions and deadly illness. Therefore, if it is in a landfill, it will never stop releasing toxins in that area. Even recycling does not cut down on plastic, as it essentially uses the existing plastic albeit in a new form. The process of recycling plastic can also lead to plastic irritants being released in a number of ways”.

The AIB boss listed the major long-term effects of plastic pollution to include groundwater pollution, land pollution, air pollution as well as FODs (Foreign Object Debris). He revealed that FOD is any article or substance alien to an aircraft or system which could potentially cause damage.

At an airport, he noted, FOD is any object including aircraft type, tyre fragment, mechanic tool, nail, luggage part, broken pavement or plastic product, found in an inappropriate location that as a result of being at that location can damage equipment.

“FOD poses a safety hazard. It can be ingested in an aircraft engine which can result in damage to the aircraft or cause an accident”, he disclosed.

To buttress his point Engr Olateru gave the instance of the July 25, 2000 incident in which an Air France flight 4590 departing Challe De Golle Airport,Paris ran over a piece of titanium debris from a continental DC 10 shredding a tyre and slamming rubber debris into the plane’s fuel tank. The subsequent leak and fire caused the Concorde crash, killing 100 passengers, nine (9) crew members and four (4) people on the ground.

While proffering palliatives, he suggested that every airport should, among other strategies, develop a mechanism to check and remove FODs and the likes from the runway, taxiway, apron, aircraft parking areas and loading ramps. Also, shop friendly policies to get rid of bottled and sachet water in plastic materials should be introduced in preference for reusable water bottles thus reducing plastic waste and exposure to leaking plastic bottles.

The Commissioner added that attempt should be made at selecting items that come in non-plastic recycled and recyclable packaging while Concessionaires at our airports can be advised on options they can switch to for packaging, storing and bagging items just as many companies around the world today are coming up with excellent low-cost replacements, such as bamboo utensils in place of plastic ones.

Professor Babajide Alo of the University of Lagos who presented the lead paper at the forum revealed disturbing statistics of the toxic effects of plastic pollution not only in our clime but worldwide.  According to him, about 100,000 marine animals including the highly nutritious Sea Turtle are destroyed annually as a result of plastic waste in our waterways. He also disclosed that not less than 10% of the 300 billion pounds of plastics produced annually across the globe finds its way into the oceans with Nigeria alone accounting for eight (8) million metric tonnes of plastics finding their way into our territorial waters.

“Not less than two (2) million plastic bottles and 10 trillion nylon bags of plastic origin are put into use the world over every minute and the components of these have been found to be chemically non-biodegradable leading to the occurrence of cancer diseases and the destruction of the endocrine system among humans,” he further revealed.

The don therefore suggested that governments across the globe should emulate the example of nations like Kenya in Africa and some other developed countries of the world to ban and criminalise the use of plastic materials. Professor Alo also said that in addition to this measure, alternatives like paper, glass, bamboo and clay are readily available to replace plastic either for packaging, carrier bags and utensils, pointing out that, if plastic must be used at all it must be recycled.

“Airlines must begin to look away from using plastic containers for serving food aboard aircraft in preference for items that are chemically biodegradable in order to maintain a sustainable environment,” he added.

He suggested further that government should enact laws that will make the use of plastic attract taxes from which money can be sourced to promote recycling systems and plastic clean-up activities across the federation.