Can Uganda end plastic pollution?

The common talk is what can we do to end poor solid waste management in Uganda. The only question would be, what are you doing about it? On February 13, 2020, GGGI Uganda joined other environmentalists to officially walk the talk to beat plastic pollution.

The speaker of parliament of Uganda Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga officially flagged off the #EarthHourug 2020 walk against plastic pollution in Kampala. She was joined by the Minister of State for Water, from the Ministry of Environment, Hon. Beatrice Anywar joined the walk from city square to KCCA Lugogo grounds.

The event was organized by the Ministry of Water and Environment, WWF Uganda and the Kampala Capital City Authority. The walk was joined by many environmental protection and advocacy bodies including the urban and rural school-going children, youth go green, Environment and social safeguards international, among others.

Plastic pollution is currently one of the biggest environmental concerns due to the rise of single-use plastics. It has toxic pollutants that damage the environment and cause land, water, and water pollution. The waste pickers and loaders pack the valuables into separate bags and tie them on top of the collection trucks and sell them to waste dealers located on the roadside in-route to Kiteezi landfill, which is the only landfill in Uganda serving Kampala and the near suburbs. Since sorting is not part of their official job description, the pickers and loaders’ segregation efforts are minimal and haphazard which is why much of the valuable waste ends up in the landfill after all. The problem of solid waste accumulation at the landfill continues to rise day by day. Yet, seemingly, recycling activity in Uganda especially Kampala is still happening on a small scale.

According to GGGI’s Kampala MSW Value Chain Mapping report, there are over 30 companies registered as plastic recycling companies in Uganda. Most of these are engaged in the recycling of PET, Polyethylene (both HDPE and LDPE) and Polypropylene (PP). PET is the most recycled plastic in Uganda. Four major companies are involved in turning PET into PET flake for export to China and India mainly for use in making polyester fabric. They manufacture PET flakes mostly for export to China and to a lesser extent, recycle HDPE blow to feed local manufacturing of plastic products such as jerry cans, basins, and bottle caps. The four companies export ~582MT in total per month, worth $250k. The largest recycler of PET is PRI, an offshoot of Coca-Cola with 45% market share of PET exports operating at 50% capacity.

Paper and cardboard recycling is also happening at a small scale, whereas metal is the most established recycling industry in Uganda, driven by growth in the construction industry as well as welding and fabrication in the informal foundry sector. The Polythene bag (“Kaveera”) industry has experienced turmoil, with a government ban that the government has not been successful in implementing. Ugandans have continuously failed to implement the ban on Kaveera. The industry has a lobby group Uganda Plastic Manufacturers and Recyclers Association (UPMRA) comprised of 45 manufacturers and recyclers of Kaveera. Organic waste that is turned into compost ends up in small farms while that which is turned into briquettes is used by institutions such as restaurants and schools for cooking.

Plastic Recycling Industries Uganda Limited (PRI), the largest plastic recycling company in Uganda, in partnership with KCCA, has created a model that creates and supports a CBO to collect plastics at the household level. Nearly all waste collected from households and institutions is mixed or unsorted waste. When a waste collection truck pick up waste, the collector’s employees or “Loaders” quickly rummage through the waste and extract as much of the valuables as possible; most especially plastics (e.g. PET bottles, plastic containers, Kaveera and metal (e.g. aluminum, copper and steel).

Most plastic recyclers also recycle used jerrycans, plastic plates etc. used in making new products. 22% of PRI’s recycling material is HDPE (its second-largest product). HDPE is not easily available, and its scarcity is reflected in its price of 850/= to 1,050/= ($0.24 – $0.29) per kg. This may be due to the long-lasting nature of the products e.g. jerrycans, plastic plates etc. The recycled resin is sold locally to manufacturers such as Victoria Nile (for Jerrycans), Mukwano (for bottle caps), and even local plastic floor tile manufacturers.

This is an opportunity to form partnerships with companies that deal in plastic recycling and create green jobs in composting, while diverting waste away from the landfill. The Green Growth Event guidelines advocate for change in lifestyles and events that are use reusable such as dishes, (no paper, plastic or polystyrene cups, no paper napkins or table covers, no plastic cutlery or bottles. “Let us go green, our actions count.”

Now our question is, can we end plastic pollution in Uganda? So you now know.