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  • Background of the Study

The environment is a subject that is currently receiving attention all over the world because its fast deterioration has become a global issue and calls for intervention from all, ranging from the school child to the housewife, the smoker, the builder, the market woman, corporate bodies, industrialists, scientists, environmentalists, the visual artists, among others. This is because it has become apparent that the present generation has a responsibility to protect and replenish the fast deteriorating natural resources in order to preserve its environment for the future generation.

The environment according to the American heritage dictionary is, “the combination of external or extrinsic physical conditions that affect or influence the growth and development of organisms.” This involves all the external factors affecting an organism. These factors may be other living organisms (biotic factors) or non living variables (abiotic factors e.g. temperature, rainfall, length of day, wind and ocean current). This is why Okonkwo in Mba, Uchegbu and Moughalu, (2001) sees the environment as an amalgam of land, sea, river, streams and coastland, the country side, natural vegetation, animals, fishes, hills and mountains. Canter (as cited in Uchegbu, 2002) and Holderness and Lambert (1982), summarize by categorizing the environment into air, water, noise, sociological, cultural and socio-economic environments. To him, in a physical sense, the environment is made up of things in the air, land and water.

Organisms and their environments often interact and both are changed by this interaction. The interaction of organisms with both biotic and abiotic factors is what forms an ecosystem (Zimmermann, 2009). In an ecosystem, every minute change in any one factor can determine whether or not a particular plant or animal species will survive. Therefore any activity in the environment can pose a threat or a blessing to the flora or fauna in an ecosystem.

Over the years, the environment has often witnessed negative changes with disastrous consequences which are exemplified by such phenomena as soil erosion, notably sheet and gully erosion; earthquakes; volcanoes; deforestation and desertification; air and water pollution; over grazing; testing of nuclear weapons and missiles with all their attendant radioactive fallout; and oil spillage leading to unproductivity of the land and water in agriculture. As if the above index is not bad enough, currently, the ozone layer is reported by scientists to be constantly diminishing. They warn that if urgent steps are not taken to check the trend, the environment may be in great danger of exposure to radiation (Mba et al 2001, Duggan 2010).

This erosion of natural environment through the depletion of natural resources, the destruction of the ecosystems, the extinction of plants and animal species is known as Environmental Degradation. Hence, the glossary of Environmental Statistics (1997) describes environmental degradation as, “the deterioration in environmental quality from ambient concentration of pollutants and other activities and processes such as improper land use and natural disaster”. This can be as a result of changing lifestyles. For instance, the increase in the use of disposable materials, excessive packaging, scraps from machines and cars are all contributing to increase in the amount of waste being generated. The result is that waste management becomes a huge challenge and Municipal Solid Waste Management (MSWM) becomes complex because of the quantity and diversity of the nature of wastes and also financial limitations on public services in large cities. When waste management is not properly implemented, it contributes immensely to environmental degradation which currently has become a global concern. This problem is not only confined to land, it also includes air and water as well.

Nigerian cities and towns are currently facing serious environmental problems arising from poor solid waste management. The rate of solid waste generation in Nigeria is said to have increased with rapid urbanization. According to Okpechi (2007), “this rapid urbanization in Nigeria did not bring with it, a commensurate growth in public infrastructure.” She points out that the draft National Urban Development Policy (FMHUD, 2004) stressed that many Nigerian cities were growing without adequate planning with people constructing houses on drainage channels causing obstructions and resultant flooding of roads and houses as are being currently experienced in cities like Ibadan, Lagos and Aba. Millions of people also live in sub-standard and sub-human environments with grossly inadequate social amenities. This gives rise to solid waste being generated at a rate beyond the capacity of the city authorities to handle in order to maintain a sustainable urban environment. The result is poor solid waste management system that portends serious environmental crisis.

Many of the residents dump refuse indiscriminately along the streets, roads, open spaces, market places, and frontages of residential buildings and drainage system. This often results in an unsightly mountain of refuse that have become a common feature of the country’s urban landscape (Nwachukwu, 2009).  Aside from the obvious aesthetic cost, the problem of solid waste goes deeper. This is because many of these consumer products that are thrown away especially plastics, non-returnable bottles, aluminum cans etc are very difficult to destroy in nature and constitute serious environmental pollution if they are not properly disposed of (Mumbai government, 2008).

The problem of solid waste disposal in some Nigerian cities especially in Aba, Abia state has become one of the most intractable environmental problems facing the country today. The level of environmental sanitation in the city of Aba is often considered as among the poorest in Nigeria. In recent years, there has been a phenomenal increase in the volume and range of solid wastes generated daily in the city. This is largely due to the increasing rate of population growth arising from urbanization, industrialization, trading activities and general economic growth.  Aba being a predominantly trading or commercial city attracts migrants from different parts of the country. As the number of people increase, more wastes are generated and because they are not properly disposed, pollution of the air, soil and water follow. For instance, problem of water pollution arising from dangerous substances seeping into water sources from the refuse dumps cannot be overlooked because virtually every one in that city depends on surface or individually mined underground water.

In Kenya, WAMACO, (2006) reports a study which was commissioned by the United Nation Environmental Programme (UNEP) on 308 children up to the age of 18 living around a municipal dump site. The report showed that half of the children had a concentration of lead in their blood exceeding the internationally accepted levels. It also showed that 42% of soil samples recorded lead levels almost 10 times higher than unpolluted soil. Almost half of the children tested are suffering from respiratory diseases including chronic bronchitis and asthma. The report was described as very worrisome and worst than expected by the UNEP. This is because chemical, metals, pharmaceuticals and other wastes often find their way into our drinking water and the atmosphere and can have serious health effect ranging from toxic poisoning to hormonal disruption and cancer.

In another report by Egbere, Itelima and Opiah, (2000) on Municipal solid waste and their health hazard implication in Angwan-Rogo ward of Jos, Nigeria, it was noted that the biodegradable bulks occupied an average weight of 68.26%, while the non-biodegradables formed the remaining 37.44% of the wastes in the dumps. The bacterial isolates from the dumps with their respective percentage prevalence were E. coli (86.70%), Staphylococcus aureus (76.70%), Salmonella sp (46.700AJ), Klebsiella sp (43.30%), Shigella sp (43.30%) and Proteus sp (33.30%). Most of these bacterial isolates are generally known pathogens, hence their presence in the dumps in such high prevalence poses health hazards to the public as rodents and flies and even air could transfer the organisms into foods, water and other consumables. Hence, raised incidents of low birth weight (less than 2500g), fetal and infant mortality, spontaneous abortion and birth defects have been related to residents near dump sites and land fill sites as has the occurrence of various congenital malformations. Also, lung cancer, chronic health effects such as increased rates of bronchitis and reduced lung function, elevated rates of respiratory symptoms and also shortened life span, nausea/vomiting, and increase in hospitalization of diabetics  have been recorded (Rushton, 2011).

These reports have implication for Nigerian cities like Lagos, Ibadan, and Kaduna that have had recent flooding experiences as a result of indiscriminate dumping of refuse. They also apply to Aba where indiscriminate dump sites are located all over the city and the volume of solid wastes appears to have exceeded the urban administrators’ capacity to plan for their collection and disposal.

It is a very common sight to see some of the streets and roads practically blocked by wastes and this has contributed greatly to flood disaster, which is associated with the city; and health hazards to plants, animals and people. Many areas have poorly controlled open dumps and illegal roadside dumping remains a problem. Obioha, (2008) described the trash heaps around the city of Aba as, “so many and so high that one could mistake them for big urban landfills”. The garbage piles have turned the roads into putrid smelling mud slides and many of the folks just walk through these roads seemingly unperturbed by their dangerous implications.

This is because many people in the town do not consider dumping of their wastes indiscriminately as an environmental problem that could lead to epidemics and other severe health hazards. To them, they are simply disposing of their wastes as inexpensively and as quickly as possible especially as they do not have better options. Many of these residents are not aware of the relationship between ways of disposing of waste and the resulting environmental and public health problems. This generates great concern for inhabitant of the city of Aba where sights like women roasting corn and frying yams/akara balls right in front of the dump sites and on top of the blocked gutters with customers patronizing them are very common.

Waste disposal in this city has generated so much controversy with the state government and the residents trading blames on who is responsible for the eye sore especially along Enugu – Port Harcourt high way. The residents accuse the government of collecting sanitation fee from them without carting away the wastes on a regular basis while the government accuses them of disposing their wastes indiscriminately. Worried by the situation, the state government in January, 2005 handed over the management of refuse to the local government authorities and also engaged the services of street sweepers to clean up the streets on daily bases. Although the situation improved during the first few months, it later collapsed apparently due to the inability of the councils to handle it.

Also, in 2007, the government being aware that the quagmire in Aba, Abia state constituted a perennial source of embarrassment determined to confront the challenge of refuse disposal head on. Being aware that there is a veritably high economic value (sources of biofertilizer, biogas fuel and animal feeds) that could be generated from the wastes since a greater portion of the dumps were composed of biodegradable waste matter, it entered into partnership with an American refuse management firm, (Phoenix Environmental Resources), whose major term of reference was to evacuate all waste materials in Abia State, move them to Obingwa in the same state and convert them to organic manure. This is in line with the report by Okonkwo in Mba, (2001) and Taiwo, (2009) that solid wastes generated in the country are characterized by a high percentage (60-80%) of organic materials which gives the waste high density with Okonkwo suggesting that modalities for evacuation should place more emphasis on the discharge points so that the wet organic refuse could be converted to other uses such as manure for farmlands and building materials.

These all took off but failed and the problem still looms large. One can attribute one of the major reasons for the failure to convert the wastes to organic manure to the fact that not all the solid wastes are biodegradable and therefore all of them cannot be converted to manure. This is because wastes generally are things discarded by individuals, households or organizations. They are unwanted materials discarded as a result of human or animal activities and they constitute of solids, semisolids or liquids in containers thrown out of houses, commercial or industrial premises. As a result, they are a complex mixture of different substances which include food and garden waste, paper and cardboard, glasses, plastics and metals. Since the municipal government has not been able to cope with waste collection and disposal successfully, the people settle for waste dumping into storm water, open dumping and stream dumping.

This type of situation may have informed Leventis in a publication by National Environmental Study/Action Team (NEST) 1991, to opine that,

While it is proper that governments should take the lead by adopting appropriate natural resource conservation policies, creating the institutional framework for policy implementation, and promulgating appropriate legislation, it has also become obvious that government alone cannot be entrusted with all the task of combating environmental degradation.

Hence, Agunwamba, (1998) opines that successful solid waste management in Nigeria will require a holistic program that will integrate all the technical, economic, social, cultural and psychological factors that are often ignored in solid waste management programs.

Also, Ukpong, (2006) sees the management of solid waste as one that can be conceptualized as a multi-disciplinary activity involving engineering principles, economic, urban and regional planning, management techniques, social sciences and the arts in order to maintain a viable quality of environment in a city or area. Hence the problem of solid waste management in Aba has attracted the attention of scientists who have studied the long term consequences of human actions on the environment. Environmentalists and other professionals in various fields as well as concerned citizens have also tried to advocate ways to lessen the impact.

The world of visual arts, which has played a critical role in provoking thought and generating dialogue on crucial issues in society, is not left out in this discourse, as it has its own input to make in the preservation of the environment.


1.2 Statement of the Problem

The Nigerian government being aware of both the aesthetic and health implications of improper management of solid wastes in the nation promulgated Decree 58 for the establishment of a Federal Environment Protection Agency (FEPA) on 30th December, 1988. This led to the formation of a National Policy on the Environment whose goals include amongst others: to secure for all Nigerians a quality of environment adequate for their health and well being. The policy depends on specific actions directed towards major sectors and problem areas of the environment for its implementation. In the solid waste sector for instance, the specific action required include collection and disposal of solid waste in an environmentally safe manner; setting up and enforcement of laws, regulations and standards; encouragement of public participation; environmental monitoring; and imposition of penalties on defaulters to encourage compliance (FEPA, 1989;  FRN, 1991; Agunwamba,  1998).

As a result of the formulation of FEPA and a national environmental policy, all the states in the federation including Abia state are making efforts to protect the environment by setting up structures towards the effective management of municipal solid wastes. However, the researcher having lived in Aba for four years observed that despite the Federal government policy on environment and the Abia state government’s efforts towards the management of municipal solid waste in Aba, solid waste management has remained a problem that looms large. It appears that the capacity of the residents in that city to generate wastes far exceeds the ability of the agencies in charge of waste disposal to effectively handle. This has become a matter of great concern because the negative impact of the improper management of municipal solid wastes is contributing to the deterioration of that environment in addition to the health hazards on man, plants and animals. One begins to wonder if the Abia state government is really doing enough in the issue of solid waste management. If they are, to what extent have they gone in enforcing measures to control people’s negative attitude to the environmental issues. Or, is this situation as a result of lack of knowledge on the part of Aba residents on the danger of environmental degradation which may have resulted from improper sensitization of the public on the issue. Any of these necessitates an urgent need for appropriate ameliorating strategies of waste management through various fields including the visual Arts.

Again, solid waste management has a number of acceptable concepts and the major areas or options are reduce, reuse, recycle and recover with the ultimate aim being to extract the maximum practical benefits from products and to reduce wastes to minimum before final disposal in landfill or other methods (Okpoechi, 2007). There is therefore the need to explore the contributions of the visual arts in waste minimization through their involvement in the reuse of discarded materials for the production of quality art works in the society. This can be done through examining art works that have been executed with the use of discarded materials which otherwise would have been destroyed through open burning and other waste management strategies. In addition to these waste or discarded materials  being destroyed, most other methods of waste disposal also have negative effect on the environment and could be avoided through the conversion of waste to art and ultimately to wealth.

Furthermore, in 1991, the Nigerian Environmental Study Action Team (NEST) estimated that 20kg of solid waste was generated per capita per annum in Nigeria. This amounts to 2.2 million tons per year given Nigeria’s estimated population of more than 100 million people per year at the time of that study. With the upsurge of the country’s population in recent years to about 167 million according to the United Nations report of 2011, the volumes of wastes generated have increased significantly. This is an alarming situation especially as the various agencies involved in waste disposal appear incapacitated to handle the challenges. This necessitates the call for waste reduction as a means of solid waste management and the volume of wastes generated can be significantly reduced by changing the behavior and habits of the population through intensive education on the consequences of improper waste management, and also waste management through the use of the visual arts in the area of waste reduction through the conversion of waste to art. This has given rise to the need of exploring the use the visual arts to embark on continuing education and awareness campaign in the city of Aba concerning solid wastes and their impact on the environment.

Finally, the alarming rate at which materials like plastics, aluminum cans, and bottles etc which are non-biodegradable in nature are dumped in streams and rivers or burnt in dumpsites close to residential areas, need the attention of all stake holders including the visual arts for immediate remediation. This will forestall impending risks and health related problems associated with it.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

            Environmental problems are one of the main characteristic features of urban cities. These problems appear mostly in the form of solid wastes. While there have already been various efforts to raise awareness for the recycling of these solid wastes, not much formal work has been carried out through the visual arts. This study sets out to examine the contributions or the role of the visual arts in solid waste management towards intervention in the global problem of environmental degradation.



Specifically, the study undertakes to:

  1. Enumerate the nature of solid wastes in Aba metropolis and the system of solid waste disposal by Aba residents.
  2. Ascertain Abia state government efforts in educating the residents of Aba metropolis on solid waste management.
  3. Ascertain Abia state government waste management implementation strategies
  4. Ascertain the ways the visual arts contribute to solid waste management in Aba metropolis
  5. Identify contemporary artists that are engaged in the creation of art works from waste or discarded objects
  6. Examine and document some of the works of the ‘waste to art’ artists
  7. Ascertain if secondary school students in Aba metropolis can create artworks from waste or discarded objects.

1.4 Scope of the Study

            The high rate of generation of solid wastes in Nigerian urban cities including Aba has necessitated active government and private participation. All stakeholders should work towards effective disposal of solid wastes because their presence constitute environmental nuisance which invariably give rise to environmental problems that affect the ecology and human health. This makes solid waste management a matter if utmost exigency especially as it has become one of the most intractable environmental problems facing the nation today.

The term waste management, in all its ramifications encompasses all steps taken in controlling the production, storage, collection, transportation, processing and disposal or utilization of wastes in a sanitary manner. Although solid waste management spans across many areas, the scope of this study however is narrowed down to:

  1. The study of the nature of solid wastes generated and their methods of disposal in three major streets in Aba metropolis.
  2. The reuse of waste materials in the creation of art works. This covered documentation of thirty samples of works of some artists who have used waste materials in creative endeavors in the various fields of the visual arts.
  3. Introduction of waste to art as a contribution to solid waste management in two secondary schools in Aba metropolis.
  4. Creation of artworks and crafts by students in two secondary schools in Aba metropolis with waste or discarded objects.

1.5 Significance of the Study

            Environmental degradation and its attendant problems which include the management of solid wastes is now a global concern both in the developed and developing nations. Rapid technological, scientific, industrial development and urbanization have largely increased the rate of waste generation and its attendant consequences.

In recent times, the subject of solid wastes and its impact on the environment is gaining wide attention from all. This is because improper waste management constitutes a great threat to human health and the environment in general. The management of the solid wastes is now conceptualized as a multi-disciplinary activity involving engineering principles, economics, urban and regional planning, management techniques, social sciences and the arts in order to maintain a viable quality of environment.

It is therefore hoped that the outcome of this research on the role of the visual arts in solid waste management will contribute towards the solution of some environmental problems in Aba metropolis by bringing out measures aimed at providing effective management of some solid wastes.

Again, it will provide useful materials that will help educate the public through the visual arts on the health hazards that emanate from improper waste disposal.

The research will also help sensitize the public that wastes can be converted to art and to wealth if properly handled from the point of production.

Furthermore, the outcome of this research will provide a useful document for the visual artist on the role that the visual arts can play in the management of solid wastes. This will enable him/her to consciously apply his/her skills and knowledge to contribute to solving one of the pressing problems that lead to environmental degradation.

The findings of this study, it is hoped will be of use to the art students and the public who will learn that the visual arts is not an isolated area that is meant only for aesthetic purposes but can also make its contributions to global issues.

The significance of this study is not only for the benefit of the artist or the art student but also for the government, policy makers, curriculum developers, health workers and environmentalists who can utilize the findings of the research for policy making and also in their various fields.

Finally, it will provide valuable document on what would help researchers and individuals who are interested in Environmental Waste Studies.



 1.6 Organization of the Study

The study is organized into six chapters:

Chapter 1 – The Introduction:

Background of the Study, Statement of the Problem, Objectives of the Study, Scope of the Study, Significance of the Study, and the Organization of the Study

Chapter 2 – Literature Review:

Environmental degradation (meaning, causes and effects); Solid Waste Management; and Visual Arts

Chapter 3 – Research Methodology:

Research Methodology; Aba in Abia state; Solid Wastes in Aba Metropolis; and Solid Waste Management in Aba metropolis

Chapter 4 – Visual Arts and the Reuse Concept of Solid Waste Management

Chapter 5 – Waste to Art Secondary School Project

Chapter 6 – Findings, Summary and Conclusion

Educational Implications, Recommendation, Limitations, Suggestions for further studies



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