Can Uganda win the war on plastics?

Can Uganda win the war on plastics?
Can Uganda win the war on plastics?

Africa-PressUganda. In many parts of the country, especially slums, plastics ranging from bottles to polythene bags, commonly known as kaveera, are littered everywhere.

During the rainy season, these plastics are washed into water channels. In Zana on Entebbe road, floating plastic bottles fill drainage system after it has rained.

This signals Uganda’s failing struggle to get rid of the pollutants.

Environmental activists say plastic bottles and bags are the most common type of plastic waste and have worsened environmental pollution.

Whereas some plastic producers and companies have embraced recycling, a large percentage of the plastics are not recycled.

A research done by Ms Paige Balcom, the co-founder of Takataka Plastics, a recycling company in Uganda, indicates that Kampala generates approximately 180 tonnes of plastic waste daily but only 40 to 50 percent of the city’s waste is collected.

The remaining waste lies on roadsides, blocking drainage systems and creating stagnant water that breeds mosquitoes or is piled into heaps and burnt, releasing lethal chemicals.

Poor garbage disposal

Ms Edith Nassali, a resident of Sseguku in Kampala, says most people dispose of garbage poorly because trucks meant to collect rubbish delay due to a number of reasons.

“We don’t separate plastics from other waste, you just put them all together. The trucks that pick rubbish come once every two weeks and some of us never see them. Some people end up paying drunkards and children to dispose off garbage. Where it ends, I don’t know but it most likely ends up in trenches, plantations,” she said.

Mr Peter Okwoko, a co-founder of Takataka Plastics, says though the number of companies involved in recycling is promising, the tonnes of plastics recycled is still low.

“Starting a recycling company requires a lot of investment so the companies that are coming up, most of them barely recycle 300kgs of plastics every week,” Mr Okwoko said.

He added: “The other thing threatening the industry is taxation. Even if you are in position to acquire a machine from India or any other country, there is a threat if imported, even if you are doing it for environment and employment you still have to pay all the taxes for machines to come. So some players are reluctant.”

Like Mr Okwoko, other stakeholders say the recycling business is expensive yet most of the companies are not making much profit.

Research by Takataka done in 2018 indicates that Kampala has 40 to 50 recycling plants, but many are not profitable. For example an industrial extruder costs more than $100,000 (Shs359 million).

The recycling of plastics is also threatened by the lack of market for their products.

According to recyclers, countries like China and India, the main importers of plastic waste, banned the imports citing mixing of plastic waste with hazardous waste, meaning countries like Uganda have to transition to domestic plastic waste management.

Hillary Mubiru, 16, used to collect plastics in Wakiso Town but was pushed out of business due to the “little” money he earned.

“After spending two days looking for bottles, someone pays Shs4,000 because the kilogrammes are less. Such things demotivate,” Mr Mubiru said.

Mr Frank Muramuzi, the executive director of National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), argues that what’s most important is to regulate plastics right from the manufacturing stage and ensure implementation of the law.

“We do not have the will to do the right thing as a country, as government. The laws could be there but we don’t implement them. Even local government, ministries, if we don’t enforce them, what do you expect the public to do,” Mr Muramuzi said.

Asked whether plastic recycling could be a solution, Mr Muramuzi said: “Recycling is one thing and generating plastics is another.”

He added: “You cannot over manufacture and import and then say we are going to recycle. We don’t have the capacity to recycle and regulate what is coming in and what we are producing.”

Though a number of laws have been put in place especially regarding the Kaveera, the problem still persists.

The plan to ban Kaveera started in 2009 when then Minister for Finance Syda Bbumba, during her budget speech, imposed a total ban on plastic bags “for conveyance of goods and liquid in order to protect our environment”.

Meaning that its importation had now become illegal and its use phased out.

Since then the country has been running in circles with more proclamation being made especially for the Kaveera below 30 microns.

Recently, State minister for Environment Beatrice Anywar called for drastic action and buy-in from new legislators to fight environmental degradation, pollution and the climate change.

In August, through a Cabinet, government expressed renewed commitment to phase out kavera once and for all.

Environmentalists fear that lack of knowledge and the absence of alternatives to replace the kaveera could still frustrate the implementation.

Manufacturers have over the years protested the ban saying they would lose out, having invested heavily in the business.

Nema reacts

Mr Tony Achidria, the senior public relations officer at National Environment Management Authority (Nema), said: “The law (National Environment Act No.5 of 2019) states that enforcement of the 30 microns is the duty of UNBS and not NEMA.”

He added: “This is section 76, sub section 4 of the law. However, the Minister of State for Environment recently disclosed during an address at the Uganda Media Centre that a decision had been made to effect a total ban. The process of reviewing the law to align with the resolutions as communicated by the minister is ongoing.”

According to Mr Achidria, one of the reasons Uganda is still struggling with plastic pollution can largely be attributed to individual behavioral attitudes towards plastics.

“Many people do not want to take personal responsibility for the waste they generate and, therefore, think that someone else should be the one to look after their waste. There is rampant littering, unregulated burning of plastics, lack of waste separation, that is people mix plastic waste with other biodegradable waste, among others,” Mr Achidria said.

Nema states that plastics pollute water bodies, affect breeding grounds for aquatic biodiversity, affect quality of soil and thereby hamper agriculture.

Mr Achidria added that plastics can be ingested by livestock and this can lead to death of animals and many times individuals have resorted to burning plastics which is dangerous as it causes air pollution leading to respiratory infections.

Burning of plastics in an environmentally friendly manner is at temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees and this can only be achieved by incinerators at professional waste collection sites.

Mr Achidria said flooding is partially caused by plastics that clog and block drainage systems.

However, flooding can be a combination of clogged drainage systems, encroachment on water reservoir areas such as wetlands, blockage of water ways by other material other than plastics, higher than normal rainfall patterns among other reasons.

Asked what Nema is currently doing to protect the environment from plastics, Mr Achidria said they are doing a lot of public sensitisation on the dangers of plastic and the country has joined the UN Clean Seas Campaign.

“We have put in place a legal framework and right now the law has a provision that all manufacturers or importers of plastics or plastic products must, as a precondition for continued operation, ensure that recycling is part of that person’s active operations.”

This reporting was supported by CFI.

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