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Polythene menace: Government ban fails to take effect

By Vision Reporter

Added 10th February 2008 03:00 AM

THE race against the polythene bag menace entered the home stretch when the Government announced a ban on the use of the polythene bags of less than 30 microns last year. However, the problem seems to be far from over.

THE race against the polythene bag menace entered the home stretch when the Government announced a ban on the use of the polythene bags of less than 30 microns last year. However, the problem seems to be far from over.

By Frederick Womakuyu

THE race against the polythene bag menace entered the home stretch when the Government announced a ban on the use of the polythene bags of less than 30 microns last year. However, the problem seems to be far from over.

The problem
“The average polythene bag is used for five minutes, but takes 500 years to decompose,” says Dr Kepha Nantulya, an environmental consultant with Environmental Consultancy Services International (ECSI).

According to ECSI, one million polythene bags are trashed in Uganda annually, most of which have only been used once. In a survey done by ECSI in December 2007, 66% of people asked, admitted to throwing away polythene bags after using it only once.

On average, those surveyed, admitted to using about four bags per week.

Paul Buubi, a field officer with Nature Watch International, says polythene bags take up huge amounts of space in landfill sites — space that could be used much more effectively.

“Many polythene bags end up as unsightly litter in trees, streets, parks and gardens which, besides being ugly, can kill animals. Those which end up in rivers and lakes may be eaten by marine life,” he says.

Nantulya says the production, decomposition and disposal of polythene bags by burning releases gases which contribute to atmospheric pollution.”

Uganda’s policy on polythene bags
In an effort to curtail the problem, the Government slapped a ban on the production of plastic bags of less than 30 microns in the 2007/08 budget speech.

Evaristo Byekwaso, of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), says the manufacturers of the bags are complying, though environmental experts doubt this.
“Polythene bags are an eye sore on the streets.

Walk on any road and you will see a heap of plastic bags,” says Dr. Andrew Etengu an inspector with ECSI. He says that the problem will reduce if there was a total ban on the production of polythene bags and penalties given to those who violate the ban.

“In some countries like Rwanda, supermarkets do not provide any form of polythene bags. The factories have been stopped from production of bags of less than 60 and 30 microns, with an effective law in place to deal with the violators without fear or favour,” says Etengu.

He adds that the supermarkets, malls and open markets in Rwanda offer reasonably priced, environmentally-friendly and reusable bags.

Etengu says this would work well for Uganda because people will save money by reusing the bags.
Alice Kagwa, a concerned citizen, says increasing taxes on polythene bags by 500% will deter manufacturers from producing the dangerous bags and also reduce on the number of customers using the bags.

Some success
Byekwaso says: “Some supermarkets are providing khaki bags which are bio-degradable and environmentally-friendly.” He adds that the bags can also be re-used. In addition, supermarkets are using bags of more than 30 microns.

On a visit to some of the manufacturers last year, Byekwaso said they have started producing bags of more than 30 microns.

All this shows that Uganda is trying to fight the problem, although NEMA admits that there are still some people using plastic bags of less than 30 microns.

“We made some arrests in Entebbe, but the culprits were later pardoned,” Byekwaso says, “there will not be any more pardon for people caught using plastic bags of less than 30 microns. We need public support.”

Nantulya says this is only 5% of the problem. Polythene bags are still being dumped on the streets, sewer pipes, water ways and in the soil in large quantities. “There is still a long way to go before people become environmentally alert,” he says.

Expressing preference
Walter Ogwang, an environmental officer in Mubende, advises shopkeepers to collect all dumped polythene bags, clean them, instead of ordering new ones from the manufacturers.

Who cares about the environment?
Nantulya stresses that if the reuse, banning of less than 30 microns polythene bags and recycling is to be successful, the Government must believe it.

For example, it could pass laws, taxation and fines punishing individuals, institutions and organisations that do not have bins or recycling plants for polythene bags.

“But if the Government bans the polythene bags without effective implementation, the problem will not be curtailed,” Nantulya says. “Public awareness and education is very important.

Currently, the Government is not doing enough to sensitise the public about the ban on bags of less than 30 microns.”

Etengu says a survey done by ECSI reveals that many people feel slightly induced to reuse polythene bags, but lack of information and awareness is a hindrance. They are not given any incentive. “But the incentive would be that they are saving money,” he says.

Consumer ignorance is also to blame. People tend to believe that only heavy bags (120 microns) can be recycled and end up throwing away the ones of less than 30 microns.

“This should be addressed by a joint NEMA and government campaign through mass media, and put a fee on plastic bags to discourage people from using and throwing them away.

However, there are people who believe that if they were charged for the bags, this would be like being encouraged to use them,” says Ogwang.

Refuse and reuse of plastic bags
Nantulya says given NEMA’s and government’s failure to curtail the polythene bag menace, individuals should take the initiative and find ways to re-use polythene bags.
He says one can reuse polythene bags for more than just shopping:

Storage: Polythene bags can be collected and used to keep things tidy. Such things could include; dirty or old clothes, plastics, cards and newspapers.

In the garden: They can be used for planting seedlings, to prepare them for germination or storing and protecting flowers.

Waterproofing: You can use impermeable bags to protect your clothes or yourself from the rain. You can use them to keep things dry, if sealed properly, especially books or newspapers.
“You can also use plastic bags inside your shoes to keep socks and feet dry,” adds Nantulya.

Survival purposes: large plastic bags can be used to make shelters in case of disasters, especially in internally displaced people’s camps.

Bin liners: use a plastic bag to line your garbage bin to protect it from rust or contamination.

Picking things up: Bags can be used in place of gloves to pick dirt like dog poop and cut grass.
The problem of the plastic bag is great and must be curtailed with joint efforts from the public, the Government and all stakeholders.

When out shopping, one can take their own bags, rather than buying new ones.

One can also reusing the standard light ‘vest bags’ provided by supermarkets such as heavy duty bags

Helpful Tips
Supermarkets should stock:
Bags like kikapos and kiondos made from natural materials
Canvas or fabric bags
Racksacks
Paper bags

Polythene menace: Government ban fails to take effect

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