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Uganda can’t do without buveera now, says new MPs report

ENVIRONMENT | Uganda cannot impose total ban on manufacture, importation and use of non-biodegradable polythene bags, commonly known as buveera, a new report says.

The November 2018 report by the Committee on Natural Resources on the National Environmental Bill 2017 instead recommends a phased plan to rid the country of the buveera nuisance.

“The increasing proliferation of plastic and plastic wastes is a threat to the environment. However, the Country cannot do without plastic products in the short run,” the report says.

For years, the government has been tinkering with the idea of banning buveera. However, implementing the strong ideas that come from boardrooms has always remained a challenge as more plants are set up to produce the items.

In 2009, Parliament passed the Finance Act that imposed a ban on the importation, manufacture, sale or use of plastic bags in Uganda. The ban was to take effect on March 1, 2010, but to-date, the ban hasn’t taken effect with environmentalists and manufacturers engaged in back and forth debate.

The Natural Resources committee argued that the laws passed by Parliament should not be in vain.

Experts’ views

During consideration of the Bill, the committee received submission from agencies such as Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (Acode), National Environment Management Authority (Nema), African Institute of Energy Governance (Afiego) and Climate Action Networks Uganda (Can-U).

This group called for the total ban on buveera, saying the plastic carrier bags are non-biodegradable, as natural processes cannot degrade polythene because it does not readily breakdown in the environment taking between 50-400 years to break down.

The environmentalists argued that buveera blocks natural permeation of water, air, and other nutrients in the soil, thereby ruining soil productivity, not forgetting the fact that polythene bags impact on the public health as plastics contain 54 potential or cancer causing agents.

Yet still, the committee also received submissions from the Minister for Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, the Uganda Plastics Manufacturers Association and Operation Wealth Creation.

This particular group informed the committee was that there are 45 factories licensed to produce plastic products in the country. Of these, 38 are involved in plastic carrier bags.

The group also rallied behind the investment in this sector, arguing that it is worth $100 million (approximately Shs375,011,096,439Bn) in machinery and $1O million in housing and building infrastructure.

The companies, they added, employ over 6000 staff and 20,000 more on semi-permanent basis on the production line and distribution and the companies also buy and recycle over 144,000 tonnes of plastic waste from micro small entrepreneurs involved in collection of the plastic waste across the country.

To justify why it would be hard for Uganda to impose a total ban on buveera, the committee argued that there is no country that has implemented a total ban on plastic bags and in most of the cases, a tax has been imposed on shopping plastic bags in countries like Ireland, Germany, South Africa, Taiwan, and the money raised from this levy is generally dedicated to environmental projects.

However, Rwanda implemented a total ban on buveera more than a decades ago with the country adopting alternative packaging methods. Kenya, too, moved to implement a similar ban last year.

“To minimize the risk and loss of many businesses, this prohibition should be done in a phased manner. All the local industries should adopt a “package buy pack” policy for the plastic bags,” the committee said.

The committee called for introduction of mandatory recycling on producers as well as the need for creation of introduction of tax incentives to encourage production of other packaging materials other than plastics.

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