By: Mayen Etim
KADUNA, North-West, Nigeria – Polystyrene materials used as containers to package food items as takeaways in restaurants and eateries for customers has gradually replaced dishware especially among the roadside food vendors popularly called “Mama Put” in Nigeria.
Today in Nigeria, most weddings, child naming ceremonies, house warming parties and the likes, plastic or polystyrene materials are seen littered the venues of such events as they are used to serve guests or visitors food when it is time for refreshments better known as ‘Item 7’ in local parlance.
However, experts warned that polystyrene food packs called “Blow Packs” are made of toxic substances like Styrene and Benzene, suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins and are dangerous to humans, animals, aquatic lives and environment.
According to them, the use of these products to package hot processed food items for consumption is dangerous as heat and liquid actually start a partial breakdown of Styrofoam, causing some toxins to be absorbed into the bloodstream and tissues.
Climate change is no myths, but a reality with desertification, deforestation especially in the northern part of the country, floods, and recently the news of earth tremors, among other disasters experiences in the country in recent years has given credence to this fact.
Research has shown that polystyrene materials takes up to 500 years to decompose, causing harm to the environment when not properly recycled. Also, disposing and burning these materials after use releases carbon monoxide into the air which is dangerous for respiration, pollute the environment and in turn triggers climate change.
Speaking to Daily News Precise, Patron of African Climate Reporters, Dr Yusuf Nadabo, cautioned Nigerians against the use of plastic materials to package food items in order to avert health challenges.
He said that plastics contains Phthalate and other chemical compounds that are endocrine disruptors, adding that the environmental impacts resulting from accumulation of plastic wastes are huge and increasing.
According to the Anatomist, in almost all homes in Nigeria today, plastic or polystyrene materials cannot be ignored as they are used for packaging all sorts of things, hence, people should know what are the effects on their health, and how to use it properly to eliminate the risk of these products.
Similarly, an environmentalist, Jibril Mohammed, decried the gradual replacement of polystyrene materials as dishwares in most restaurants and eateries, especially among roadside food vendors in form of takeaways.
Mohammed said that polystyrene packs have constituted nuisance to the country as people littered the streets with them, at trash dump cites, gutters, drainages, streams and rivers, noting that this has posed serious health challenges to humans and setbacks to most aquatic lives.
He warned against taking tea with lemon, coffee with dairy cream, beverages, fruit juice, alcohol and wine from Styrofoam cups, as according to him, red wine instantly dissolve the Styrene monomer.
“Polystyrene food containers leach the toxin Styrene when they come in contact with warm food or drink, alcohol, oils and acidic foods causing human contamination and pose health risks to people.
“Most interesting is the degradation of food that contains vitamin A (Beta carotene). In packaged foods with heat (such as microwave temperatures), Vitamin A will decompose and produce M-xylene, Toluene, and 2,6-Dimethylnaphthalene. Toluene will aggressively dissolve polystyrene,” he added.
Mohammed called on environmental NGOs/CSOs, and other stakeholders to come together and create awareness on the effects of the use of polystyrene products to humans, animals and environment.
A roadside food vendor at the Sheikh Abubakar Gumi Market, popularly known as Kaduna Central Market, Maman Asabe, said she opted for disposable food packs in dealing with her customers because they are neat, presentable and save her the heartache of losing her valuable breakable dishware and spoons.
According to her, blow packs also comes in handy as cheap and saves the cost of damaged or lost dishwares. She added that these disposable containers also serves as an extra gift packs for guests and could be reused by them for personal purposes.
Maman Asabe disclosed that she buys three dozens of polystyrene packs daily for her business, adding that her friends on the same line of business with large customers also make use of the same takeaway packs.
“Majority of my customers who are on transit preferred I packaged their foods in disposable packs,” she quipped.
“Plastic materials in landfills sink in harmful chemicals into groundwater. And chemicals added to plastics are dangerously absorbed by humans altering hormones,” he explained.
Dr. Nadabo said there is need to find means of recycling these wastes in order to save aquatic lives from extinction due to mass exodus of trash flowing into rivers. He called on relevant ministry to sensitize the public on the dangers of improper disposal of plastic or polystyrene materials.