A cabinet decision to reinstate the ban on manufacturing, use, and importation of polythene bags, commonly known as kavera, has attracted mixed reactions across the country with authorities fearing that lack of knowledge and the absence of alternatives to replace it could frustrate implementation.
Through a Cabinet meeting early last week, the government expressed renewed commitment to phase out kavera once and for all.
It is the second time the government is banning the use of polythene bags.
In July 2009, once approved by Parliament, the government imposed a total ban on plastic bags “for the conveyance of goods and liquid to protect our environment”.
The then State minister for Environment, Ms Beatrice Anywar, while addressing the media last week, warned that this time round, nothing would frustrate the implementation and that the ban took immediate effect.
“The production, importation, and the use of polythene bags in this country called Uganda is banned,” Ms Anywar told the media, adding that the ban was one of the Cabinet resolutions that are intended to safeguard the environment.
Ms Anywar’s proclamation comes several years after the aforementioned Finance Bill was passed. But, more than 10 years later, the ban has failed to be implemented effectively.
Although Ms Anywar stated that the Finance Act 2009, under which polythene use was banned in the country, had to be effected this time round, authorities in districts across the country have remained skeptical about the viability of the ban.
While others have cited lack of knowledge on the dangers of using kavera, others claim enforcement could be sabotaged by lack of alternatives to replace the kavera.
In Nwoya District, for example, Mr Sam Okumu, the district internal security officer, blamed the failure of the initial ban on the negligence of the public in handling and disposing of the kavera once used as well as a lack of sensitisation.
“You will see someone using a polythene bag, but immediately after using it, they just drop it anywhere on the roadsides and waterways without caring that the bags pollute the environment,” Mr Okumu said.
He suggested that the government should instead consider introducing an incentive of buying off all the polythene bags from the community besides blocking its production and importation.
“If the government can come up with plans of buying the kavera and recycling it, then that will work much better in bringing to an end the pollution of the environment,” Mr Okumu said.
Ms Eveline Acaa, the Nwoya District environment officer, said the rate of poor disposal of polythene bags was alarming in the district.
“As you can see, it’s a big debate everywhere, but it is worst here. All water channels in the town gets clogged by the plastics and attempts to get rid of them have been futile because of lack of sensitisation and also because there are no easy alternatives for kavera,” Ms Acaa said.
Mr Stephen Odong Latek, the Gulu Resident District Commissioner, said the initial ban on the use of polythene bags was a failure because there was no alternative in place for the users.
“We tried to implement the ban on the use of the polythene bag in the district but it was not absolute because there was no alternative put in place,” Mr Latek said.
Mr Latek said there is a need for further consideration on the alternative to ease the implementation of the ban on polythene bags in the country.
But his counterpart, the RCC of Gulu City, Mr Richard Odongpiny, said: “There has been continued manufacturing of the kavera despite the ban on it in this country, we are, however, waiting to start implementation, but the people should be given enough information.”
Mr Alfred Okwonga, the Gulu City mayor, said there is already a by-law in the offing that will induce property owners within the city to ensure they collect all plastics and polythene bags around their properties.
“Once this law is in place, we shall be good to go, remember we are also negotiating with the judiciary to help us put up a city court to make sense of the by-law,” he added.
The previous ban on polythene has been opposed on various grounds. One, that it eases packaging for shoppers who claim they see no suitable alternative, and secondly that the manufacturers would lose out, having invested heavily in the business.
In Jinja District, the environment officer, Mr Moses Maganda, said the disagreement between the Ministry of Environment and that of Trade has delayed the implementation of the total ban of kavera.
Mr Maganda explained that as well as the Ministry of Environment had come up with the policy to ban kavera as earlier on, the Ministry of Trade argued that the decision had been rushed and it would affect investors.
Mr Maganda, however, said this time, the ban will succeed since there is a letter indicating that the two ministries harmonised their position since in East Africa, it is only Uganda that has been producing them.
He suggests that besides the harmonisation programme, all factories producing kavera should be ordered to stop.
Rev Nelson Otto, an environment activist attached to Uganda Environmental and Gender Journalists Association- UNEGEJO, attributed the delay of implementation of kavera ban to politics.
“Politics has played a big role because many of the investors had already set up factories. Politicians intervened on the grounds that the investors contribute a lot of revenue,” he said.
“According to the environment, there must be environmental laws right from village level to the top, the wanainchi such as boda boda riders don’t understand these laws, they buy water in the kavera and dump it anywhere, meaning sensitisation process should start from the grass root through local radios,’’ he said.
In Busia, meanwhile, residents have welcomed the move.
Mr Godfrey Oundo Ongwabe, the chairperson of national cross-border trade, described the ban as “long overdue” because of the dangers the petroleum products pose to the environment and people’s health.
“Rwanda and Kenya, who are members of the EAC just like Uganda, banned polythene bags long ago and it’s good we have followed suit,” Mr Oundo said.
He said the ban will lower operational costs of most urban councils, which have been having challenges in collecting waste, the bulk of which was polythene.
Mr Deogratius Mulehe, a resident of Masaba Ward, said whereas the ban was good, he expects the implementation to start with the closure of factories involved in the manufacture of the polythene.
“We want to see the factories that manufacture the polythene being closed and not the shops and supermarkets as it has been,” he said.
Mr Okello Waata, a resident of Dabani, said the implementation of the ban is most likely to fail because many factories have the interests of highly placed persons in the government.
Mr Kennedy Adriko, a security personnel in Mbale City, said there is no alternative in place.
“You cannot replace a free customer-care polythene bag with another expensive and inconvenient material,” he said, adding: “You cannot use an envelope to carry most items like 50Kgs of sugar.”
Mr Steven Masiga, the Makerere coordinator, said we should focus on enforcement.
“There must be laws and enabling legislation by either National Environmental Management Authority or Parliament. It’s not about a political pronouncement and threats,” he said.
In Kabale District, the natural resources officer, Dr Rogers Akatwijuka, said providing an alternative packing materials would ease the implementation of the law.
“I agree that kavera is dangerous to the environment and I welcome the law that bans its use, but mass sensitisation of the people must be done,” Dr Akatwijuka said.
Whereas Mr William Amanzuru, a conservationist, said the ban has been long overdue, he fears several hurdles await the enforcement.
“It (ban) came quite late, but it is a great opportunity to reconnect with the ecological and biodiversity loss that is directly attributed to kavera. But the biggest challenge I see here is with enforcement, who is to enforce this ban and how will it be enforced?” he wondered.
Compiled by Geoffrey Okot, Philip Wafula, David Awori, Abubaker Kirunda, Tausi Nakato, Alex Pithua, Tobbias Jolly Owiny, Denis Omony, Marko Taibot, Phoebe Masongole, and Robert Muhereza