It is on the street, in schools, homes, shops and markets. You’ll find it in cities, towns and villages. It is everywhere. Young or old, north or south you are sure to come across it. Nigeria’s sachet water, popularly called “pure water” have no doubt transformed the production and consumption of water in the country. They are readily available, accessible, affordable and portable. Usually produced in 50cl sachets, pure water is convenient and profitable almost across its entire value chain. The production of pure water is a thriving business across the country. Retailers and wholesalers benefit richly from the franchise too. Not left behind are the hawkers who are there to offer chilled sachets of water in traffic and save your life on a scorching hot day.
There are debates as to how pure the water truly is and so most people have a preferred brand that they try to stick to. However it is advisable to ensure that before consuming any sachet of pure water, it carries a NAFDAC registration number.
However, all pure water is packed in polythene which is non-biodegradable. This makes it unsuitable for landfill as it will negatively affect soil structure, composition and the level of microbial activities in the soil. The polythene bags are equally unsuitable for incineration (burning) as it will generate air-borne cancerous toxic fumes that are linked to various respiratory, reproductive and other health problems. It also contributes to the release of greenhouse gases that are linked to Climate Change.
Equally worrisome is the improper disposal of these used pure water sachets. Everywhere you see a pile of garbage, you can be sure to find a significant proportion of these bags. They contribute significantly to the blocking of drainages and other water channels which ultimately result in flooding.
Although there is some recycling of these bags, it grossly insufficient and only available in a few parts of the country. The end product of the recycling process are fine pelletised plastic products with good commercial value. Unfortunately, only a small proportion of Nigeria’s pure water sachet find their way to a recycling plant. The vast majority are littered indiscriminately and result in environmental degradation and pollution.
A few years ago, there was news of government’s attempt to ban these polythene bags but it never saw the light of day. The best that some State governments have done is to impose certain taxes and levies on the pure water production factories to cater for their proper collection and disposal.
In the light of the country’s growing population and demand for water, it is critical to examine the sustainability of the very popular pure water. In spite of its convenience, it is equally important to consider its impact on the environment. A phased and strategic move from polythene-based pure water to glass bottles, large refillable dispenser containers or other alternative biodegradable materials are more sustainable alternatives. In the meantime, it is necessary to encourage the establishment of more recycling facilities across the country to help curb the menace posed by used and improperly disposed sachets.
In the meantime, you can choose to get a reusable water bottle to help cut your consumption of sachet water and encourage others to do the same. By reducing our use of plastic, we are doing the environment a lot of good!