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The recent announcement by Lagos State’s Commissioner for Environment, banning Styrofoam boxes and single-use plastics with immediate effect, caught many by surprise, especially those in the informal sector. However, for entities in the formal sector like fast food chains and supermarkets, this should have been an anticipated development. These businesses had a prime opportunity to spearhead the sustainability agenda, but instead, they found themselves reacting to the government’s decision. 

For me personally, the Fast-food chains missed the chance to lead by example in transitioning from single-use plastics to encouraging customers to bring their recyclable packs and bags. They could have initiated this movement, collaborating with competitors, and seeking government support. This proactive stance in environmental stewardship should have been a priority, and their failure to seize it represents a significant oversight. 

This ban should not have been unexpected, especially for major players like fast food chains and supermarkets. Nigeria, being Africa’s second-largest importer of plastics, contributes significantly to plastic pollution. With over 130,000 tonnes of plastic ending up in Nigerian waters annually, the repercussions are evident in clogged gutters and waterways, leading to floods and disease. The fast food and supermarket chains had a chance to address this issue proactively, rather than waiting for government intervention. 

Consider the impact if a brand like The Place Restaurant had led the way in transitioning customers from single-use plastics to bringing their recyclable bags and containers. Such a move could have set a precedent, prompting other brands to follow suit, thereby fostering significant environmental change in Lagos. 

Customers do not always know best or want what is best, and it is the responsibility of purpose-driven businesses to guide them towards sustainable practices. This is a lesson that can be learned from global counterparts who have successfully ‘trained’ their customers to adopt more environmentally friendly habits. 

This situation is not a lost opportunity but a wake-up call for the food and retail industry to incorporate scenario planning into their strategic processes. Brands with a purpose that aligns with sustainability need to act decisively. At D&I, we can assist these brands in navigating towards sustainable practices that not only benefit the environment but also their long-term profitability. 

The responsibility now falls on fast food chains and supermarkets to spearhead the sustainable environment agenda, moving beyond mere compliance with policy changes. Equally, it is imperative for the Lagos State government to maintain a strong position against single-use plastics. This involves enacting stringent laws with punitive measures for those who persist in using banned products. They also need to keep an eye on tackling smuggling and indiscriminate dumping of waste effectively. 

Also, fast food chains and supermarkets should come together with the support of the government and identify, test and scale innovative solutions to replace the current harmful single-use plastic packs and bags like Walmart, CVS and target have done with the beyond the bag initiative.  

For customers, the call to action is clear: embrace sustainable practices that extend beyond immediate gratification and contribute to a healthier, more sustainable environment (Lagos). The coexistence of sustainable business practices and profit is possible, but it requires commitment and a willingness to change. 

In conclusion, the move towards environmental sustainability is not just a responsibility but an opportunity for businesses to lead, innovate, and create a lasting positive impact. It is time for fast food chains, supermarkets, and customers alike to embrace this challenge and work towards a sustainable future. 

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