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Can Recycling Save Victoria of Plastic Pollution? :: Uganda Radionetwork

Can Recycling Save Victoria of Plastic Pollution?

While some plastics have been collected by young people foraging the wetlands to have them recycled, a huge chunk remains uncollected. Can recycling end plastic pollution on Lake Victoria?
16 Oct 2021 12:43
Plastic waste in one of Kampala's drianages. Most of is floods into Lake Victoria
 Wetlands play a crucial role in purify the water in the lake and run-off by filtering it. But most of those surrounding Lake Victoria have been opened up for farming and settlements.  

As East Africa joins the rest of the world for the UN Climate Change Conference later this month, environmentalists say delegates should find a solutions to the plastic waste crisis along rivers and lakes.

While some have noted that Lake Victoria is dying “from the bottom” due to plastics, an activist from National Association of Professional Environmentalists(NAPE) Sostire Namanya fears that we may end up with more plastics than fish in Victoria.

As the Lake chocks with visible plastics in form of soft drink bottles, and other plastics , the extent of micro plastics is yet to be investigated. While some plastics have been collected by young people foraging the wetlands to have them recycled, a huge chunk remains uncollected. Can recycling end plastic pollution on Lake Victoria? 

Allan, Obbo is  a teacher, every time he takes a bottle of water or soda bottles in plastics, he keeps it in his bag. He has built himself a resort in the outskirts of Mukono one of the districts near Lake Victoria.

 “Research tells us that plastic is very dangerous to the environment. look at the trenches in Kampala. All the time they are blocked. Look at our lakes the lakes are chocked. And research tells us that for this bottle to degrade, it will take us three hundred years. So if I put it on the building, it even has more life on the building than when it was on the soil because on the ground it will take three hundred years,”

Behind one of the recently completed houses whose walls were raised with plastic bottles stands a huge pile of plastics from Rwenzori water, Coca-Cola, tangawizi and name it.  All if not collected would end in the lake if not the soils explains  Allan Obbo.

“So if I put it on the building, it even has more life on the building than when it was on the soil because on the ground it will take three hundred years. So using this bottle as an alternative for construction, and I want to encourage the citizens of Uganda. Bottles are everywhere and they are cheap to find. Using them to construct, you will be really saving the environment. Three hundred year the bottle is in the ground, not plant can grow where a bottle is” said Obbo

Away from Allan Obbo’s resort, at Namugona a suburb located next to Lubigi wetland. The papyrus wetland, the city’s largest, serves as a critical water catchment area for the entirety of Uganda’s Central Cattle Corridor.

It provides vital social, environmental and economic functions and has become a popular site for informal human settlement that is threatening to destroy what is left of Lubigi. Empty mineral water plastic bottles, polythene bags, plastic cups, and plates, mention it all, all are right there in wetland, left unattended. Most of that are given a free lift by running water that takes them into Lake Victoria.

Siraje Siraje Muwaya resides nearby this wetland. He operates a flower and tree nursery bed business. He has seen loads and loads of plastics flood the wetlands whenever it rains. He says it is hard to get the bottles and polythene out of the papyrus.

  "I try hard to look for the polythene bags that are carried by storm water into the wetland when it rains. I fill the polythene with soil and put my seedlings there. Whenever it rains, it's time to go deep into the wetland to collect polythene to help with my business. A lot of plastic comes with storm water" says Muwaya

Worst of all the papyrus which would have acted as a sieve or to block the bottles into the lake are quickly disappearing due to encroachment. Part of it has been constructed into, and the rest in being used to farm crops like yams.  

A 2015 World Bank Study found that 40 percent of Kampala population lives in informal settlements in or around wetland, and 50 percent of Kampala’s wetland cover had disappeared. We have not come across a fresh study.

The situation may be worse with more informal settlement that is threatening to destroy what is left of Lubigi. In Kampala, about 28,000 tons of waste is collected and delivered to Kitezi landfill every month. Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) records show that this represents about 40% of the waste generated in the city.  

Upon arrival at Kitezi, the waste is weighed and after dumping it is processed by waste pickers, also known as scavengers, for removal of material with a market value, for example, paper, metals, and plastics.

Sostire Namanya, is an activist with the National Association of Professional Environmentalists ( NAPE ). She says some plastic actually end up in the lake invisibly as it’s carried away after peeling into very small particles.  

" The thing about plastic is that it doesn't compose so it keeps peeling slowly by slowly so you ask yourself those small things that peel off a plastic bottle or a plastic paper where do they go because they are tinny, you can't see them so either the fish eat it or we drink it in our water and probably that is also the reason why we're seeing more increase of things like cancer. And then water pollution, more households are depending on the lake to get water either for domestic use as consume that, we use that to cook and that ends up in our bodies so the question is, in the next thirty to fifty years we might not be having normal functioning because of the overtime consumption of water that is actually polluted" says Namanya

According to a recent study in Kenya, found that apart from drinking bottles, no-drinking bottles had the highest leakage to lakes like Victoria and the Indian Ocean. Most leakage from Kenya was from the packaging. Back in Kampala, Jude Byansi manages water and sanitation at the Kampala Capital City Authority -KCCA says the amount of polyethylene in the city’s garbage is growing. 

"We are having a very big challenge of plastics especially when it comes to PET plastics, or plastics which are used to make bottles, that's a lot of it. And if you're to estimate, the city has around 132 tonnes of plastics generated on a daily and of which we can only recover only five percent" Byansi says  

And most of them are blown by wind into Lake Victoria. Others are given a free lift by running water that takes them into the lake.

Can recycling and reuse offer a solution? 

So far about 40 companies in Uganda are engaged in recycling plastics in the country. One of these is Pipeline Design and Foam Industries recycling plant in Gayaza, 

Eng. Alfred Kasereka, is the manager there.  He says they crash over 30 tons of plastic waste every day. "Ugandans take long and for instance now like this people who are patient, we need people who are motivated where by our company does it also. We train, we sensitize and then even motivate some of them so that they are in. And we normally give them a say that there is value in waste so that they keep on moving"But he but he says just a small of plastics end up here.  Without proper plastic waste management practices and regulation, more and more forms of plastics will end up at waste bins and of course Lake Victoria. And why not ask the polluters or manufacturers of water, soft drinks, energy drinks, bottles waragi and name it suggests Kasereka

Moses Ategeka, is the Executive Director of Uganda Plastic Manufacturers and Recyclers Association

" Proper microns of plastics must be produced on the market, that legislation alone is a good strategy, legislation is good, where we don't look at collection now and we look at legislation. If we tell the manufacturers make sure you produce the right microns, don't put fake products on the market it will be fine and when you have institutions of government like UNBS (Uganda National Bureau of Statistics), you have NEMA (National Environmental Management Authority) you have all those ones and we tell you as an association, because we're the regulatory body now at the level of production, we tell you go to this gentleman, he's producing wrong micron, be there and don't take a bribe, go and fix him so that tomorrow we have a better place to be by if you go and pick money from a fake manufacturer then you're actually increasing the problem"  said Ategeka

Ategeka says people don’t know this and need to be enlightened more because plastic pollution in Uganda has been popularized to mean Kaveera only yet the country is choking on plastic pollution in the form of non-thought about items.

"And we have told people, plastic is not about kaveera because kaveera percent is only one percent and then we have plastic straws, plastic bottles, plastic bottles plastic, basins, you don't talk about them where do they end, they end up in the environment. When you're scientifically looking at solutions because we live by science. We must look at recycling as ultimate and unbeatable unbwogable because it's gonna help our countries in the region to control plastic littering. It's only Egypt and South Africa that have much better emphasis and Uganda has also replicated" explains Ategeka

Unlike in neighboring Kenya and Rwanda where plastic ban has been effected, it is business as usual here as politicians and those business interests in plastics rise up each time banning plastic comes. 

For now, Sostra Namanya is worried that we may end up with more plastics tan fish in parts of Lake Victoria. "The way the fish actually breed and live, their habitat have been actually disrupted...There are these disturbing images that I was in France three weeks ago attending the ICM Congress and one of the people that exhibited, they exhibited how you see fish wrapped up in a glove, they took an underground picture and the fish was literally entering into the glove, these gloves that we use in hospitals and etc. So that means such a fish is not going to survive, it's not going to survive and that why I am saying we'll find more plastic in Lake Victoria compared to the fish" says Namanya 

Now with more droughts and floods from warming of the earth, there no choice of everyone playing his or her role from saving Victoria from the plastic waste Or else will not have water in the Lake. We shall have all fisheries depleted.