Manufacturers have the responsibility to collect their waste, says Akankwasah
Kampala, Uganda | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | Uganda is witnessing an increase in soft drinks and mineral water packed in plastic bottles of various sizes. This increase is unfortunately coming with the challenge of increased plastic pollution.
The mushrooming beverage companies, both international and local largely are not doing much to avert a problem they are creating in regards to recycling their plastic bottles.
Most manufacturers favour plastic bottles over glass bottles because of their lower cost.
But poor garbage disposal habits among Ugandans who litter everywhere and anyhow are not helping protect the environment from these plastic bottles.
According to the Ministry of Water and Environment, plastic waste is becoming disastrous to urban and rural areas due to poor disposal practices. All store purchases are packaged in polythene bags, and without proper disposal, plastic garbage can be seen everywhere.
“During the rainy season, they are washed into water channels, where they block drainage. Single-use packaging for soda, water, and other drinks results in mountains of garbage heaping up in legal and illegal dumpsites,” said Brian Kizito, an environment officer in the capital Kampala.
“It is unfortunate that in our country, there is no law against the disposal of waste. When someone buys a soda or water in a plastic bottle, after drinking it, he simply throws it anywhere. Can you imagine most people who drink soda in taxis or private vehicles simply throw the used bottles out the windows?” he remarked.
Often times the leaders of Kampala Capital City Authority have blamed the endless rain induced floods on poor disposal of plastics bottles which block drainage channels.
Now the Ministry of Water and Environment is moving to ban single use plastic bottles in packaging beverages. Instead the Ministry is advising soft drinks making companies to use glass bottles for their products. Government has given manufacturers of beverages up to 2024 to have abandoned single use plastic bottles in favour of glass bottles.
According to the Executive Director of the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), Dr. Barirega Akankwasah, NEMA has embarked on sensitisation campaign about the dangers of single use plastics and the need to shun them.
According to research conducted by the World Climate School’s Uganda chapter, more than 75% of used plastic bottles end up in landfills, lakes, and rivers, which is seriously damaging to the environment.
Statistics from NEMA show that plastics take a lion’s share of this waste with over 600 tonnes being produced every day throughout the country. Given that only 40% of this waste is collected and disposed of properly, the remaining 60% finds its way into the environment leading to a number of problems.
“These(60%) constitute the greatest part of pollution of our lakes, rivers , degradation of our soils and rendering fertility and productivity of agriculture ineffective and needless to say the rampant blockage of our drainage channels culminating into floods we see today,”Akankwasa said.
He said the waste blocks drainage channels and ends up in lakes, rivers and other drainage systems and effects the environment.
“These (waste) come along with pathogens which find their way into the food chain like the fish, crops we eat and everything we get from the soil. This is because of irresponsible disposal of waste gets its way into the soil.”
Dr. Akankwasa said some waste affects animals which ingest the waste, become infected and when humans consume meat from the animals, the cycle of pathogens continues .
“It is our responsibility to ensure we address this challenge.”
To implement the single use plastic ban, NEMA faces a number of challenges arising from inadequate funding, low staffing, inadequate equipment for environmental monitoring, and fleet and office space. These challenges have further been exacerbated by limited capacity of lead agencies to manage segments of environment under their respective jurisdictions.
The COVID-19 budget cuts left NEMA with an allocation of Shs13 billion, of which Shs10 billion goes towards payment of salaries and other statutory obligations. NEMA has an operational budget of only Shs3 billion for the financial year amidst increasing demands for service delivery in the environment sector. It is not possible for NEMA to respond to all environmental protection needs.
Akankwasah said manufacturers have the responsibility to collect their waste, especially plastics. He said producers must label their products.
“Since the extended responsibly places the burden on manufacturers to collect the plastic waste, as government we will soon be taking the responsibility to the producers fining them with penalties to collect the waste they generate,” he said.
Kampala city alone accounts for the large volumes of plastic waste. NEMA says 51% of the plastic garbage in the city is not collected and ends up in drainage channels, wetlands, natural watercourses, manholes, undeveloped plots, and on the roadside. In Uganda, less than 5% of plastic is recycled yet plastic can take over 450 years to decompose completely.
Some studies say when plastics are burned, they emit toxic chemicals causing respiratory problems. Uganda does not have serious environmental laws on burning plastics and the existing laws are never enforced.
Farmers in rural areas say if careless dumping continues at this rate, “we will have nowhere to grow crops in 15 years from now”.
Environmental activists say that it will cost millions of dollars to clean up the polluted land, water, and air, not forgetting the health problems they could have caused in those years.