Kaveera makers want ban lifted

THEY are like chameleons. Two decades ago, the pro-polythene bag lobby said manufacturers had invested a lot of money in the plastic making industries, offering employment to thousands of people, while paying huge taxes to Government coffers.

Following the total ban on polythene bags in the budget speech, the lobbyists are now arguing that waste could be recycled, something they had ignored for decades.

“The polythene bag lobby group is powerful and has been engaging government officials,” says Jessica Eriyo, the state minister for environment.

“I have attended some of their meetings and they have been saying they have recycling facilities for polythene bags.”

This, Eriyo says, is impossible to undertake because it is not easy to collect carrier bags and clean them before recycling.

In 2002, she says, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA) held discussions over polythene and agreed upon some measures.

“I understand the polythene bag makers did not fulfill these measures. This shows they lack the commitment to provide a solution,” she says.

The measures included installation of waste recycling plants to reduce the circulation of waste polythene in the environment.

At the moment, all the polythene makers have recycling facilities, but the incentives provided to those collecting polythene are not attractive.

The manufacturers have, therefore, resorted to importing fresh raw materials, which is cheaper.

In the interview, Eriyo said she was expressing her personal opinion. She advised the writer to contact her senior colleague, Maria Mutagamba, the environment minister, for the official position.

However, Mutagamba declined to provide details, saying she was preparing a statement which she would present to Parliament (this week).

To prove that they are worth being listened to, four out of the 15 factories making polythene bags have teamed up to clean parts of Luzira for the last two weeks.

They have been clearing blocked drainage channels that are strewn with plastic bottles and polythene bags.

The polythene makers have also placed large drums in over 10 locations between Bugolobi and Luzira for waste disposal.

Although the sudden change of heart is being viewed suspiciously by environmentalists and makers of paper bags, Banada Nswa, a waste management expert, says the polythene bag manufacturers have now started behaving like responsible producers.

Nswa says responsible producers follow their products from the time they are released until they are discarded by the users.

“Their move is commendable, but who is going to supervise them?” asks Nswa.

He says the Government lacks the capacity to oversee waste management. He proposes that the companies should be charged an environmental tax, which should be passed over to a waste management authority.

He urges the urban authorities or local governments to support the total ban on polythene or ensure that polythene makers start waste recycling.

“Urban authorities have been spending huge sums of money on waste handling,” says Banada. “But they have not woken up.”

Non-governmental organisations, Nswa notes, could be assigned the role to follow up on the makers of polythene.

“This should have started long time ago. The revenue raised from the tax on polythene bags should be ploughed back into waste management.”

He says that approach has been successful in Ireland and Kampala should take a leaf from them. “This is the right time for Kampala City Council to agitate for such a policy,” he says.

“I discussed it with the urban authorities sometime back, but it did not capture their interest.”
The funding from polythene bags could help cause awareness and start waste sorting.

But the producers too, should be responsible enough to produce environmentally friendly materials, according to Banada.

A prominent polythene bag maker says it is important to nurture a culture of waste recycling.

“The debate is currently about polythene bags, but plastic bottles are equally dangerous.

How about papers, old car tyres and dry battery cells? How many things in this country are going to be banned?

“Waste management could employ thousands, while creating new raw materials. The mess has been stuck with us for decades and it cannot be cleaned in just one or five years.

We need to cause attitude change through awareness, create a sense of responsibility and add value to the waste materials,” he says.

An environmental officer working with NEMA, Dick Lufafa, says a waste management campaign that ran for a few months engaged some unemployed youth with incentives to collect the polythene bags.

This, Lufafa says, was a successful intervention of the public private partnership, but could not be sustained due to lack of funds to provide incentives to the youth.

The polythene bag saga is a case that reminds one of the legend told about the battle of Troy.

When Achilles, an ancient warrior, had besieged Troy for a decade and could not enter the city, he ordered his men to build a wooden carving in form of a horse.

In the horse was a hollow belly created for some of Achilles’ men to hide. The following morning, the Trojans woke up and ‘discovered’ that their enemies had deserted leaving behind a wooden horse.

They thought it wise to push the horse into their city, not knowing that Achilles’ soldiers were hiding inside the wooden horse.

During the night, the men in the wooden horse came out and opened the gates to the city and Troy was invaded.

Could the proposal by plastic bag makers be like the Trojan Horse or is it the beginning of a waste management revolution in Uganda?

By Gerald Tenywa, The New Vision, 29th June 2009