Adenike Akinsemolu interviewed over the shutting down of Olusosun Dumpsite

Dr Adenike Akinsemolu

Dr Adenike Akinsemolu

1. What is your take on the move by the Lagos State government to shut down the Olusosun dump site?

The Olusosun dumpsite was built in 1992, when Lagos’ population was about 7 million. The dumpsite used to be located far outside town, which at the time did not need to be shut down since it did not pose any health hazard to the residents. But now that the population has grown to about 21 million and Lagos State has expanded far beyond the dumpsite; it puts Olusosun right at the heart of the city, with a hospital on one side and a school on the other, now posing serious health and sanitation risks for the people living around the area. However, you do not throw away the baby with the bath water.  I believe proper management is the major issue here. Lagos State government should take concrete steps in ensuring proper management of the dump site with the possibility of expanding it to take care of the increased volume of refuse. However, if there is no possibility of expanding the capacity of the place, then the government can relocate it to an entirely different location, preferably a nonresidential area.

2. What are the implications of having a waste dumpsite around a residential area?

Aside from the threat of a potential fire, which could kill the residents, toxic waste could affect the residents’ health. Landfills produce large amounts of methane gas, along with leachate, a toxic liquid that comes out of compressed trash. Leachate is composed of organic and inorganic pollutants such as phenols, dioxins, chlorinated pesticides, heavy metals and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Besides, studies have shown possible increased risks of certain types of bladder and brain cancer including leukaemia for people living near dumpsites or landfills. Also, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine discovered that babies born from mothers living near dumpsites have a heightened risk of congenital disabilities.

3. What are the positive and negative environmental implications of shutting down the dumpsite?

If it were shut, the dump site would no longer lead to outbreak of fire and health hazard to the residents. For instance, improper waste disposal creates devastating epidemics of mosquito-borne malaria, yellow fever and other potentially fatal diseases yearly. Last year, Lagos had two outbreaks of Lassa fever, a potentially deadly virus that comes from rodent urine and faeces, which is linked to poor sanitation. On the other hand, it may lead to indiscriminate dumping of refuse in the community which will eventually result in pollution of the environment.  Also, from an economic standpoint, it could hurt the livelihood of the scavengers who make their living off collecting valuables or recyclable waste.

Fig;  Olusosun Landfill

Fig; Olusosun Landfill

4. Rating the level of efficiency of Lagos waste control and management, how effective will you say the Lagos State waste management system is?

Waste management is a global problem, which has not been resolved. I believe the Lagos State waste management system is trying, but it has yet to attain optimum efficiency. This is evident in the fact that Olusoosun dump site has resulted in fire outbreak twice, which means there are still pressing issues to work out. I believe change must come from within: people, especially near the dumpsites, need to be better educated in terms of what improper dumping of waste can do to their health and what safety precautions should be taken to alleviate this pressing problem.

Overall, I do not think the waste control and management in Lagos is efficient. I even remember one time as I was driving to my hotel room I had seen a waste bin that read "Cleaner Lagos" and all around the waste bin were mounds of trash scattered everywhere. It is ironic to see how our intentions are not backed by action.

5. What ways could the environmentalist/policy makers help to promote the Lagos State waste management system?

The best way to help promote effective waste management system is by educating future generations to be more mindful of the earth and the place they live in.  The Green Institute in Ondo state has made history in Nigeria by graduating its first set of students who have gone through a special kind of education known as 'Early Childhood Education for Sustainability.' This kind of education equips practitioners with the requisite skills to impact youngsters in solving environmental problems by coming up with sustainable alternatives.

An example is the trash for education model recently introduced by the Green Institute. This model rewards people who trade their valuable wastes and other unused materials with formal education, educational materials, and vocational training. This is a win-win situation as the people are getting education and also saving the planet.

The trash problem is not just a government problem or a concern for only environmentalists; it is every person's problem. And so if everybody were to be more responsible with their waste disposal, things will change for the better. We need the government to follow suit and incorporate green education in schools, teaching future generations the immeasurable benefits of living in a clean and green world not overrun by rubbish. 

For instance, this is already being practice in Homaj secondary school located in Ondo State. Lagos State should emulate this style of education.

We can also adopt the practice in developed countries like Japan that has found ways to turn trash into energy through high-intensity incineration. Refuse Paper and Plastic Fuel (RPF) are now being used as coal alternatives. There are ways to actualize this in Nigeria, with enough will from both the government and its people.

6. What measures will you advise the state government to take in ensuring that the fire incident which occurred at the Olusosun dump site does not repeat itself at other dumpsites?

Fires are caused by toxic material mixed with the rubbish found in dumpsites. Proper recycling and sorting of waste are crucial in minimising health hazards such as fires and toxic leaks. Scavengers or trash pickers actually help in the sorting of trash. The government should find a way of incorporating these people into the waste management system to ensure efficiency. Recycling plants should be set up in non-residential areas where people could work under safer conditions.

7. What is your take on the involvement of “Vision Scape” to handling waste disposal in Lagos State?

While I believe that the intent is good, I do not believe that one should look outside for answers. Lagos problems are best known to its people and not to companies abroad. My question to the government is, are you getting what you paid for? At 750 million Naira a month, are you seeing the improvement you are expecting? If not, then you are being ripped off.

8. What role does recycling play in the waste management system of Lagos State?

Recycling plays a significant role in waste management. What scavengers and trash pickers do is a form of recycling. For as long as there are dumpsites, there will be people trying to scavenge for recyclables. We need to support them by incorporating them into the government waste management system either by permanent employment or contractual agreement. In doing so, we are killing two birds with one stone - we improve their quality of life and simultaneously generate jobs that help to achieve a ‘Cleaner Lagos’.