Makers of plastic bags get reprieve

Wednesday March 29 2017

A dumping site choking with plastic shopping

A dumping site choking with plastic shopping bags. On March 14, 2017 Kenya banned the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By JULIUS BARIGABA

The dispute between environmental concerns and business interests in Uganda is not about to end as plastics manufacturers have now found an ally in Tanzania.

Manufacturers of environmentally hazardous polythene bags have been buoyed by Tanzania’s refusal to submit its amendments to the EAC Polythene Materials Control Bill, 2016. As such, the Bill could not be passed at the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) sitting in Kigali that ended on March 16.

Moreover, the East African Business Council (EABC) also petitioned EALA to delay passing of the Bill, which is intended to ban manufacture, sale and use of polythene bags. The EABC said there had been inadequate consultations on the Bill among stakeholders.

More than 40 plastic recycling industries in Uganda have been given a reprieve by the delay in passing the Bill, which could now be shelved since its mover, Rwanda’s Patricia Hajabakiga, will complete her term at EALA this May, or it may be passed in the next parliament.

The polythene bag sector in Uganda is estimated to be worth $10 million, and manufacturers are protective of their investments.

Rwanda was EAC’s pioneer in banning the use of plastic bags, followed by Uganda in 2010; more recently, Tanzania and Kenya have also put in place measures to ban the bags.

Despite having a law banning polythene bags for the past seven years, Uganda has not implemented it. The National Environment Management Authority executive director Tom Okurut told The EastAfrican that “the law has not changed,” and companies manufacturing or selling the bags “are doing it illegally.

“If there is any change, it will come from the Office of the Prime Minister. But for us, the law is still in place,” Mr Okurut added.

At a Cabinet meeting last June, President Yoweri Museveni issued directives for the 2016-2021 period, which among other things sought to protect the plastics and polythene recycling firms against the April 2015 total ban by Nema.

“To clean the environment, the Kampala Capital City Authority should quickly license investors that have been seeking to recycle garbage, recycle polythene bags and plastics and, more recently, to recycle e-waste,” President Museveni wrote.

In April 2015, as Nema was intensifying its campaign against plastic waste, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda announced that “the ban would be postponed while discussions with relevant ministries and other stakeholders are being finalised.” 

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