Achieving Zero Waste: The Active Role of Youth

Growing up, the term “dumping site”  was an all too familiar term to me. Every two days, we were expected to dispose of our household waste in the nearest dumping site, regardless of whether it was authorized or not. What mattered was that we could get rid of the waste, even if it meant depositing it in a communal waste area that had automatically become a dumping site.

Aside from the unsightly habit of dumping waste in unauthorized areas, we also observed the complexity and diversity of waste deposited in these areas. They contained both biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste, including household items, clothing, bottles, and food waste. This issue is not only prevalent in our community but also in other parts of the world.

Technological innovation and industrial advancement have created more opportunities for waste generation. The problem of waste persists and has become a global issue that requires an urgent response and action. According to the United Nations Habitat Agency, humanity generates between 2.1 billion and 2.3 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste that is disposed of in land, air, and water. The global count of waste dumped in 2024 is currently at 490, 682, 578 and counting. The World Bank has revealed that Nigeria currently generates a minimum of 32 million tonnes of solid waste annually, and this number is expected to rise to 107 million tonnes by 2050. The World Bank has also revealed that only 30% of the waste generated is properly collected and disposed of.

The increase in waste generated globally and across Nigeria has contributed significantly to climate change outcomes. Harmful waste released into the atmosphere depletes the ozone layer, and methane emitted from the decomposition of organic materials from livestock animals has been shown to produce solar radiation 20 times more effectively than carbon dioxide. Illegal waste dumping in drainages leads to the stoppage of free water flow, resulting in flooding that displaces households and businesses. The production and use of single-use plastics emit vast amounts of greenhouse gases and are one of the largest forms of waste generated.

So, what is the way forward?

The United Nations Habitat has designated the 30th of March as a day to highlight the importance of bolstering global waste management and promoting sustainable consumption and production patterns. This day emphasizes the need to raise awareness and call for collective action among young people, stakeholders, community members, and the general public to tackle and effectively manage the production of harmful waste materials.

Young people are driving forces in ensuring environmental sustainability and responsible waste generation. The growing youth population in Nigeria is a catalyst for achieving zero waste.

Here are some actions that young people can take to contribute actively to achieving zero waste:

1. Embrace and incorporate the 5Rs- Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose, and Recycle principles to achieve zero waste. These principles encourage responsible consumption habits, reusing items whenever possible, and recycling and repurposing materials.

2. Advocate and raise awareness about sustainable practices and eco-friendly lifestyles in your communities, schools, clubs, and youth-oriented gatherings.

3. Participate in climate educational programs like the Climate Voices Nigeria Boot Camp (click here to apply) to gain insights, expand your knowledge, and connect with like-minded individuals passionate about addressing climate change and environmental sustainability.

4. Participate in clean-up exercises in your local neighbourhoods, parks, beaches, and communities.

5. Leverage social media to share your knowledge and actions towards waste management.

6. Research and understand policies around waste reduction, net-zero emission, recycling, and waste management practices.

7. Promote a responsible consumption lifestyle by purchasing eco-friendly products, avoiding single-use plastics, and opting for reusable items and materials with minimal packaging.

In conclusion, achieving zero waste is a collective responsibility, and young people play an active role in making it a reality. By taking the necessary actions, we can help reduce waste and create a more sustainable future for ourselves and generations to come.