By Robert Tumwesigye
Plastic pollution has become an alarming global crisis, posing severe threats to ecosystems, wildlife, and human health. Like many countries, Uganda is grappling with the detrimental effects of plastic waste.
As the world unites in the fight against this pervasive problem, Uganda must also play its part. This article explores the extent of plastic pollution in Uganda and highlights why supporting the global plastic treaty is crucial for the country's sustainable future.
Currently, it is estimated that at least 600 tons of plastics are used every day in Uganda and most of them are disposed of irresponsibly.
Uganda recognizes the threat and dangers posed by plastic litter and associated pollution. Plastic has become the most dominant waste in the country both on land and in water. Whereas Uganda is a land locked country, it has a large number of inland fresh water bodies, which are suffocated by plastic litter.
This is in addition to the pollution caused on land, in the drainage systems, in towns, dump sites and parks.
The problem increases each passing day and it is not difficult to see how bad the situation is, especially on rainy days, when the flowing water dredges up waste, including plastic water bottles, polythene bags and other kinds of plastic containers.
Uganda faces mounting challenges due to plastic pollution. Plastic waste is not only visible in Kampala but has also infiltrated cities, municipalities, town councils and rural landscapes, water bodies, and even delicate ecosystems.
Rivers, lakes, and wetlands are choked with plastic debris, endangering aquatic life and compromising water quality.
There are regulations for Kaveera but plastic waste disposal continue to contribute to the clogging of drainage systems, leading to flooding and the spread of diseases.
Kavera is the most commonly used plastic shopping bag in Uganda, the government of Uganda has severally attempted to ban Kaveera.
In the amended National Environment Act of 2019, the government of Uganda, through NEMA, banned the import, manufacture and use of polythene bags with a gauge of 30 microns and below, popularly known as “kavera.” The issues cited as reasons for the ban included clogging water channels and impeding smooth water filtration and percolation into the soil. However, NEMA has since failed to enforce the ban due to strong lobbying by recyclers and manufacturers of kaveera.
Environmental and ecological impact
The environmental consequences of plastic pollution in Uganda are far-reaching. The persistence of plastic waste in the environment disrupts natural ecosystems and harms biodiversity.
Wildlife, both terrestrial and marine, often mistake plastic debris for food, leading to entanglement, suffocation, and death of animals. Moreover, the decomposition of plastic releases harmful chemicals into the soil and water, polluting vital resources and posing long-term risks to human life.
Human health concerns
Plastic pollution in Uganda poses significant health risks to its citizens. Improper waste management leads to the burning of plastic, releasing toxic fumes into the air, which can cause respiratory problems and other illnesses.
Plastic waste also contaminates food sources and drinking water, exposing people to harmful chemicals such as phthalates and Bisphenol. Some hotels use kaveera to cover food while cooking. Kaveera has chemicals which enter the food. The adverse health effects of these chemicals range from hormonal disruptions to increased cancer risks.
The economic impact of plastic pollution should not be overlooked. The tourism industry, a vital source of revenue for Uganda, is negatively affected by the unsightly plastic waste that mars natural landscapes and diminishes their appeal.
Moreover, the cost of cleaning up plastic waste, unclogging drainage systems, and managing the consequences of plastic pollution places an unnecessary burden.
The author is a biodiversity conservationist in Uganda