On Tuesday President Museveni ordered plastics’ manufacturers and importers to cease production, importation, distribution and sale of polythene bags of less than 30 microns.
The President’s move will certainly reignite public debate that has been raging on since the then minister for Finance, Ms Syda Bbumba, while presenting the 2009/2010 Budget, invoked the provisions of Section 2 of the Finance Act 2009 and slapped a ban on that category of polythene bags.
Though the ban was meant to have come into force with effect from March 31, 2010, enforcement by National Environment Management Authority (Nema) ran into a wall following intense lobbying by the manufacturers, who sucked in politicians. The initial argument was that the manufacturers needed a grace period to empty their warehouses. It later shifted to inconveniences that shoppers would suffer in the absence of alternatives, possible job losses and effects on the tax revenue.
We do appreciate those arguments, but we, at the same time, cannot ignore the hazards that the polythene bags pose to our health and environment. In November last year, the Ministry of Health and the Uganda Cancer Institute, warned against use of polythene bags for boiling food, saying they contain plasticisers, which trickle into food. This, they warned, is the cause of some of the non-communicable diseases that have been afflicting Ugandans.
Polythene bags litter communal facilities such as schools and health centres. The flow from Nakivubo channel, which is meant to help drain the city, is slowed down by the huge amounts of polythene that find their way into it. Similarly, the drainages on most of the country’s roads are clogged with polythene bags, which partly explains the endless flooding on most of the roads in Kampala city and other towns. Little wonder that the country’s road maintenance budget is very high.
While agriculture employs nearly 69 per cent of the population and contributes about 26 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), polythene bags have since found their way into most of the land in the countryside where most of the agricultural production takes place yet the bags cannot be naturally degraded into the environment. This is a threat to the sector.
In light of all that, Mr Museveni’s directive on the matter cannot be better timed. It should, however, come with demonstrable support. One of the things that pegged back Nema’s attempt to implement the ban in 2016, was an inter-ministerial disagreement on who was the right person to enforce it. Mr Museveni should ensure that ministries read from the same page.