Ban on polythene bags is unwise

A total ban on polythene products without even mentioning alternatives is irrational and irresponsible. Polyethene and plastics in general are cheap, convenient and have revolutionalised many aspects of our daily lives. It is very difficult to imagine the economic and social costs of not being able to use them—in restaurants, electronics, hospitals, travel, name it. When I hear people talking of paper bags, I wonder whether they ever consider what is used as the raw material for them.

Paper bags come from trees and wetland plants like papyrus. These are already in severe shortage in Uganda. There is a report which has just been released entitled “The State of Environment Report for Uganda 2008: Sustainable Environment for Prosperity”. It says Uganda is soon becoming a total desert because of drastic and alarming deforestation! The statistics are bleak, to say the least. Why do we dig a bigger hole to fill a manageable one?

We always do the easy thing—run away from our duty to use plastics responsibly and think we are solving a problem! We shall soon have petrochemical industries in Uganda and we are not even considering how to live responsibly with their by-products that should be utilised to maximum to spur development and pull people out of poverty.

The difference is cultivating the discipline to use them responsibly. You don’t do that by banning the product, you enact bylaws of safe use/disposal and enforce them vigorously and within a year everyone will be conforming to safe disposal of plastics. And then you save the trees and wetlands and resist desertification. The finance minister’s approach is irrational.

The emphasis should be on responsible plastics use and disposal in an era of plastic revolution. And to all Ugandans, let us not run away from our responsibility. We all need a good environment, plastic-free soils, forests and wetlands.

Protecting it is primarily our obligation. We should not wait for a minister’s decree to do the right thing. Why wait for a minister to tell you it is wrong to throw your mineral water bottle in the middle of Kampala road from your air-conditioned car? Do we also blame the plastic manufacturers for such behaviour?

Editor, The New Vision, 22 June 2009