Why Polyethene Ban Is Failing To Work In Uganda

A woman sort polyethylene bags waste for recycling INTERNET PHOTO A woman sort polyethylene bags waste for recycling

In the last ten years, the Ugandan government has been considering to ban polyethylene bags commonly known as kaveera of gauge below 30 microns used to carry mostly groceries albeit with little success as members of the private sector fight tooth and nail to save their businesses that benefit from the use of the environmentally unfriendly carriers.  

But in April 2015, despite numerous callous demonstration from members of private sector, including court battles, the Ministry of Water and Environment under National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) effected the ban on importation, manufacture and use of polythene bag of gauge below 30 microns.

The implementation however has not been a rosy one as affected businesses and other government agencies including cabinet fought the ban calling for its suspension. This back and forth has left the public in a state of indecision. Some traders stopped packing customer purchases in the kaveera while others continued to use the ban substance despite threats of legal action from NEMA.

And the Minister for Water and Environment Sam Cheptoris has blamed this inconsistency on the lack of sensitization and awareness about the dangers of the use of kaveera and the ban throughout the country. The minister says many people including those fighting the ban of kaveera don’t know the reasons why kaveera was being banned yet if they knew they would comply.

“The ban has not been successful because people don’t know the reason for the ban. We need to increase sensitization,” the minister said during his maiden visit to the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) head office since taking over the ministry following his appointment in the new cabinet.

The minister advised NEMA, a government agency tasked with managing the country’s environment, to always make sure that when enforcing environment regulations people understood and appreciated the reasons for such actions.

The unwanted ban

The ban of kaveera took center stage during the Budget speech of 2009  before former finance minister Syda Bbumba and the then Environment Minister Maria Mutagambwa presented the proposal to cabinet and parliament before being famously halted following lobbying from traders and manufacturers of kaveera in the country.

The impasse dragged on as negotiation between environmentalists, government and traders hit dead ends all the time until April, 2015 when NEMA under the directive of the line ministry moved to implement the ban. The kaveera, according to advocates of the ban, is being banned because of its hazardous effect on the environment.

NEMA in a statement ahead of the ban last year said the economic, health and social costs of the continued use of kaveera outweighs the economic benefits derived from the production of kaveera and its cost is reflected in the increasing cost of malaria, reduced agricultural productivity and infrastructure repairs. The ban has however continued to get resistance across the country.

Kaveera and environment

According to www.academia.edu the accumulation of polyethylene waste in the soil will result in poor soil aeration and poor absorption of water and nutrients. They continue to say that polyethylene materials can increase soil temperature. Polyethylene products can last up to 1000 years in the soil inhibiting the breakdown of biodegradable materials around or in it and the other fear is that agricultural crops cannot grow where polyethylene products are because their roots cannot penetrate the soil for water, nutrient etc.

The website also explains that kaveera has negative impact on water because it can endanger the lives of water species like turtles, whales and sea birds who can mistake these polyethylene wastes for food or get entangled in it, resulting in painful injuries, or even death. Also marine plants and animals can be smothered by polyethylene plastic bags.  Marine debris which also include Polyethylene waste is unsightly and unwelcoming to beachgoers, which can result in lost revenue from tourism.

The negative impact of kaveera also extends to the atmosphere because when burnt polyethylene waste produces unpleasant and chocking smell, polyethylene waste combustion produces soot which is an airborne particulate emission and the combustion of polyethylene (both low (LDPE) and high density (HDPE) has been found to produce Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) especially olefins, paraffin, aldehydes and dioxins which are a danger to human life.

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