Local Water and Environment

Plastic garbage, a pipeline for health, environmental risks in Kasese

BY ALEX BALUKU

Plastic garbage has become a critical issue in Kasese Municipality with Government failing to implement the National Environment Act 2019. Science Journalist Alex Baluku, investigates the problem and its potential solutions.

Kasese Municipality is the main town for Kasese district which is known to be the tourist destination around the Rwenzori region.

Situated in the Western Part of Uganda, Kasese is one of the prominent places in the country. It’s renowned mostly for minerals and it welcomes thousands of people including foreigners who come in for copper and cobalt mining. Besides minerals, this area is a great tourist spot.

The top attractions to visit in Kasese are, Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Rwenzori Mountains among other natural resources including Lakes and Rivers.

However, these admired tourist attractions have been threatened by poor plastic garbage management around the major towns across the district including Kasese Municipality.

Being the main town, Kasese Municipality is comprised of hundreds of retail and wholesale shops and a good number of liquor and packed water shops. Many including the locals and the political wing have agitated for the elevation of this town center to a city status.

The Municipal Council has a population of approximately 160,000 people; the number is increasing every year as the town center continues to develop.

With rapid population growth and urbanization, annual waste generation is expected to increase by 73% from 2020 levels to 3.88 billion tonnes in 2040. Around the world, waste generation rates are rising. This does not rule out Kasese District.

In 2020, the world was estimated to generate 2.24 billion tons of solid waste, amounting to a footprint of 0.79 kilograms per person per day.

Compared to those in developed nations, residents in developing countries and or cities, especially the urban poor, are more severely impacted by unsustainably managed waste. In low-income countries, over 90% of waste is often disposed of in unregulated dumps or openly burned.

These practices create serious health, safety, and environmental consequences. Poorly managed waste serves as a breeding ground for disease vectors, contributes to global climate change through methane generation, and can even promote urban violence.

Managing waste properly is essential for building sustainable and livable cities, but it remains a challenge for many developing countries and cities.

In Kasese Municipality, the population is made up of the working and non-working class.

The town center (Municipality) comes alive every Monday, Thursday and Saturday as people from nearby sub counties/villages come to the town to do their shopping, sell their local produce and also seek health and medical services. And as night life resumes, hundreds of revelers gather on the major streets of Kasese town, bars and hangout places.

However, no one is responsible to keep the town clean. At the end of the day, plastics including disposable takeaway plates, cups and drinking cans can be seen everywhere with the town.

Some of this plastic garbage ends up in the drainage systems and later pills over the water bodies including lakes and rivers.

Plastics beached in front of the Kazinga Chanel Fish Landing Site in Katunguru-Kasese District. Photo by Alex Baluku.

William Sunday, a fisherman at the Kazinga Chanel fish landing site on Lake George in Katunguru of Lake Katwe Sub County, shared a similar sentiment stressing that plastics of many types frequently follow the lake and are beached in front of the fish landing site.

Sunday said that empty bottles of plastic are the most common form of littering the fishing village. He said that these plastic wastes are brought to the lake from Katunguru community through a drainage system that pours the rain water runoffs in the water body.

Drainage that pours water runoffs and plastics into Lake George through the Kazinga Chanel fish landing site. Photo by Alex Baluku.

Sunday also told this reporter that him and other colleagues frequently carries out cleanups on the lake shores to keep the environment clean.

He said that they have always collected the bottle, put them together in the incinerator and subsequently burn them little knowing that the fumes produced here was also harmful to the environment.

Sunday pointed out that plastic garbage on lake George was more considered an environmental issue especially for the aquatic life.

Sunday Explaining to this reporter how the plastics get into the Lake. Video clip by Alex Baluku.

Zephaniah Bwambale Kameli, an environmental activist, says the presence of plastics with in major areas and towns of Rwenzori region and the environment is contributing to climate change crisis that poses several challenges that hinder economic development.

He added that the Municipal Council was experiencing economic losses linked to lower tourism earnings, adverse effects on tourist activities, and harm to the living environment.

“Alongside bottles, the public should also be informed not to use plastic bags, but to use eco-friendly alternative bags made from fabric, natural fibers and paper to reduce the problems associated with these plastic bag garbage” Kameli suggested.

Speaking to Rwenzori Daily in an exclusive interview, the Kasese Municipal Senior Environment Officer, Evelyn Muhindo Mugume, agreed the influx of the plastic garbage is worrying. 

Plastic garbage in a drainage channel in Kasese Town Center. Photo by Alex Baluku.

“Plastic waste is a major global challenge and these toxic wastes can be found anywhere within the Municipality and they have affected the environment in many different ways, we see plastic bottles in water bodies, seas, lakes, rivers, they clog drainage channels, cause flooding and therefore we need to do everything we can to reduce the kind of waste to remedy the challenge” said Mugume.

“We have durable winds around Kasese, and every time it blows, these plastic bottles end up in our lakes (Lake Edward and George and Kazinga channel). After some time, they get filled with water and sink to the bottom of the lakes,” she added.

Evelyn Muhindo Mugume-Kasese Municipal Environment Officer. Photo by Alex Baluku.

From the Municipal perspective, our greatest weakness is lack of proper regulation to confront the issue,” Mugume narrates, adding that plastic waste has been an unregulated and least prioritized environmental threat around the Municipality.

While asked what the Municipal Council was doing to address the plastic garbage issue, the senior environment officer, told this reporter that her office was approached by Climate Change Institute Uganda, which she described as God sent Institute that has come to support them in cleaning the town saying that the institute is involved in the collection of plastic waste particularly the plastic bottles.

She said that they have signed a memorandum of Understanding with Climate Change Institute Uganda to help them articulate their different roles in the management of plastic garbage and that this partnership was one of the strategies to hit their target and achieve the Municipal’s vision which is “For a clean, well planned, green and poverty free Municipality”.

“Plastic bottles are very dangerous, it has come to the environment because it contains the drinks, the beverages for people to consume but there is no attempt by the manufacturers to recollect them so climate change institute Uganda is doing its best to recollect these plastics from the environment and take them for recycling and reuse, we hope it will do a lot for the municipality” she asserted.

Carolyne Zawede, Founder for Climate Change Institute Uganda, is the one championing the campaign of colleting up plastic waste on the Municipality streets and transporting them to Kampala for recycling.

Zawede says in partnership with Rwenzori Bottling Company, plastic recycling industries under Cocacola beverages Africa, they are embarking on the collection, segregation, and recycling of all kinds of plastic to move towards a circular economy and save the environment in Kasese District.

The Climate Change activist, says plastic garbage collected from Kasese and other areas is being recycled into bricks, pavers and used for construction of houses, courtyards and car parking patches in Kampala.

Bricks and pavers made out of plastic bottles.

As the lead player in a project that turns trash into plastic bricks and pavers, Zawede adds the level of plastic pollution in Kasese district is too much the reason why they launched the campaign to collect and compress these plastics, teach the young generation about their dangers and also equips them with skills to manage it.

Kasese Municipality, Mpondwe Lhubiriha, Kisinga, Kyarumba, Katwe Kabatooro and Hima Town Councils among other towns around Kasese, are grappling with ineffective and inefficient waste management activities.

Every month, Climate Change Institute Uganda transports over 25 tonnes of compressed plastic collected from Kasese Municipality, that is since 2018, and these plastics include those of mineral water, soft drinks and herbal drugs.

Compressed plastics at the garbage compost plant in Kidodo waiting to be transported to Kampala for recycling . Photo by Alex Baluku.

She says that they are working towards converting plastic wastes into an asset to help sustainably reduce and manage the plastic waste while also providing a viable business opportunity for the private sector.

Zawede says they have planted two Compressor machines at the garbage compost plant in Kidodo in Kasese Municipality where the collected garbage plastics are compressed before they are transported to Kampala for recycling.

Compressor Machines planted at the garbage compost plant in Kidodo in Kasese town to help in compressing of plastic bottles for easy transportation to Kampala for recycling. Photo by Alex Baluku.

A section of the Youth and women have been employed to help in the collection of plastic bottles and others to operate the Compressor machines.

However, Zawede says that waste collection and transportation has only been done in Kasese Municipality stressing that they have not been able to extend the campaign to other town centers around the district due to a number of factors including, insufficient funds and inadequate waste management infrastructures and government failure to allocate a reasonable budget towards waste management.

Women helping in sorting of plastic bottles at the compost site. Photo by Alex Baluku.

She adds that, low personal income of other big towns around the district and inhabitants undermines the willingness and ability to pay for waste collection service fees.

According to Edwin Mumbere, and environmental biologist, and Founder Coordinator for Center for Citizens Conserving Environment and Management-CECIC, there is a low level of waste education and awareness and that the correlation between health and waste is not known to many people around Kasese. Mumbere suggests that civic education on waste management is the way forward to address the challenge of plastic waste.

The biologist says that there was a widespread occurrence of microplastics detected in all surface waters around Kasese District the reason he was also quick to say that there is for collective support from the central government, NGOs, Schools, Churches and other groups to lay strategies on how to address the plastic garbage issue.

Mumbere also estimates that hundreds of fish species including many that humans eat are consuming plastic something he said that was causing danger to these consumers.

Currently, Kasese district is allegedly ranked number one in cases of cancer at the Cancer Institute in Mulago, and Mumbere says this could be liked to the plastics that people might be consuming unknowingly.

According to the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI), the two lakes and the Kazinga channel in Kasese district have an annual fish catch of 6,637 tons as per the 2020 assessment.

In this sound cloud , Mumbere suggests that factories and companies which produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it in order to prevent the damage to human health, aquatic life and or the environment.

According to this biologist, Central and Local Governments should prioritize and strengthen the implementation of the Environmental Management Act.

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