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Uniting Against Plastic Pollution: Calling on President Museveni to Declare April 22nd, 2024, (EarthDay), a Public Holiday in Uganda.

Every year, the world unites in celebration of Earth Day, a global demonstration of support for environmental protection.

Earth Day, coordinated by Earthday.org, brings together over 1 billion people from 193 countries, engaging in diverse environmental campaigns to raise awareness and advocate for our planet's future.


This year's Earth Day theme, "Planet vs Plastics," calls for a collaborative effort to end plastic pollution, demanding a 60% reduction in plastic production by 2040 for human and planetary health.


African Climate Reality Leaders participate in a plastic clean-up in Isingiro District during the 2022 Earth Day celebrations.
African Climate Reality Leaders participate in a plastic clean-up in Isingiro District during the 2022 Earth Day celebrations. Photo by Nelly Salvatore.

In Uganda, plastic pollution is a severe environmental threat. Thin, single-use plastic bags and bottles, commonly used to carry items like groceries and packaging for beverages like soda, water, and alcohol, are the primary culprits. This plastic plague isn't confined to urban areas; it extensively litters not only waterways and agricultural lands but also infiltrates natural habitats.


Despite existing legislation and the efforts of multiple government bodies, plastic pollution remains a significant challenge in Uganda and this calls for a critical evaluation of the current approach and a multi-pronged strategy for stricter enforcement and improved waste management.


Here's a closer look at the existing framework:

  1. The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA): Established under the National Environment Act (1995), NEMA is the principal agency for environmental management. It has the authority to set standards for air, water, and soil quality, including regulations on plastic production and disposal.

  2. The Ministry of Water and Environment: As the lead policymaker for environmental issues, the Ministry plays a crucial role in developing and enforcing plastic pollution control measures. The National Environment (Plastic Pollution Control) Regulations (2018) fall under their purview.

  3. Uganda Revenue Authority (URA): The URA is responsible for regulating the import and export of plastics. This includes enforcing the ban on the importation of polythene bags below 30 microns.

  4. Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS): The UNBS sets standards for various products, including the mandatory labeling of biodegradable plastics. They work alongside NEMA to ensure compliance with these standards.

  5. Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA): For Kampala specifically, the KCCA is responsible for solid waste management, including plastic waste collection and disposal.


While Uganda has established a legal framework to address plastic pollution, significant gaps remain in its implementation. Enforcing existing legislation remains a challenge, highlighting the need to empower the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and local authorities. Furthermore, public education about responsible plastic use and disposal is critical to drive behavior change. Inadequate waste collection and recycling infrastructure exacerbates the problem.


Earth Day 2024 presents a powerful opportunity to bridge this gap. With the theme "Planet vs. Plastics," Uganda can make a significant statement by declaring April 22nd, Earth Day itself, a national holiday dedicated to a massive, country-wide plastic clean-up effort.


The implications of this declaration are profound:


  1. This bold action would showcase the government's unwavering commitment to combating plastic pollution and protecting Uganda's environment.

  2. It would signal a prioritization of environmental protection, upholding the Ugandan constitution's mandate for a clean and healthy environment (Article 39, 1995 Constitution).

  3. Declaring a national clean-up day would engage every citizen, fostering a sense of shared responsibility and empowering them to become active stewards of their communities.


Here's how the government can approach this initiative:


  1. The President, His Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, can declare April 22nd (EarthDay) a public holiday in Uganda through the appropriate channels.

  2. President Museveni's personal participation in a designated community clean-up would inspire and encourage nationwide participation.

  3. Political leaders and local authorities should spearhead mass awareness campaigns on Televisions, radios, social media and other channels and also clean-up efforts across the country. This requires mobilization at national, regional, and local levels to ensure comprehensive participation.

  4. Companies significantly contributing to plastic pollution should be called upon to sponsor clean-up activities. Furthermore, this presents an opportunity for them to commit to cleaner production practices and explore sustainable alternatives.

  5. All organizations/companies/insitituitions, government departments like ministries and their staff, regardless of their primary function, should be encouraged to lead or support clean-up initiatives within their areas of operation. This nationwide effort will require inclusivity and collaboration across all sectors of Ugandan society.

Participants carrying out a plastic audit during the clean-up event in Isingiro town to determine the highest plastic polluter.
Participants conduct a plastic audit during the plastic clean-up event on Earthday 2022 in Isingiro town to determine the highest plastic polluter. Photo by Nelly Salvatore.

While a national clean-up day on Earth Day 2024 would be a powerful starting point, true sustainability requires a long-term vision. Here's where we can learn from a successful model:


Rwanda's "Umuganda" initiative.


Rwanda's "Umuganda" program, meaning "coming together in common purpose," is a mandatory monthly community service day dedicated to cleaning and development projects. The initiative, spearheaded by President Paul Kagame himself, has been instrumental in transforming Rwanda into a near plastic-free nation. President Kagame's consistent participation in these clean-up days sends a powerful message of unity and commitment, inspiring widespread public engagement.



President Paul Kagame joined Kimihurura Sector residents for the monthly Umuganda in Kigali on November 30th, 2019.
President Paul Kagame joins Kimihurura Sector residents for the monthly Umuganda in Kigali on November 30th, 2019. Photo courtesy: paulkagame.com.

Inspired by Rwanda's success, Uganda can establish its own monthly clean-up day which I will for now name it "Obumwe," a Runyankore term that means "togetherness,". However, regional variations with names that resonate locally and promote the spirit of collective action would also be encouraged. This could effectively capture the spirit of collective action and this coupled with a national clean-up day on Earth Day, would create a strong foundation for tackling plastic pollution.


However, clean-up efforts alone are not enough. For lasting change, Uganda needs comprehensive legislation and stricter enforcement.


Here's what I would recommend for a comprehensive approach:


  1. Strengthen Enforcement: NEMA and local authorities require greater resources and capacity to effectively enforce existing plastic regulations.

  2. Legislative Review: Reviewing and strengthening legislation across the plastic lifecycle – production, import, use, and disposal – is crucial.

  3. Extended Producer Responsibility: Exploring schemes where manufacturers are held responsible for the collection and recycling of their plastic products would incentivize sustainable practices.


As I conclude, the plastic choking our streets and waterways isn't just an eyesore; it's a threat to our health, our wildlife, and the future we dream of for Uganda. That's why I'm calling on all of us to join hands and fight back.


A national clean-up day on Earth Day 2024 would be a fantastic first step.

But imagine the impact if we drew inspiration from Rwanda's incredible "Umuganda" initiative and established regular clean-up days under the banner of "Obumwe" – our Ugandan spirit of togetherness.

Wouldn't it be amazing to see President Museveni rolling up his sleeves and joining us, just like President Kagame does in Rwanda?


This vision may seem ambitious, but trust me, it's achievable. With stricter enforcement of existing laws and comprehensive new legislation targeting plastic production, use, and disposal, we can create a real turning point.


This isn't just about one clean-up day; it's about a collective commitment to a cleaner, healthier Uganda. It's about leaving a legacy for our children, a land free from the curse of plastic pollution. So join me, let's make some noise, and let's show the world that Uganda can become plastic-free by 2030.



I invite you to sign this petition to be part of this movement.

Together, we can make this vision a reality.


 

Nelson Byanyima, also known as Nelly Salvatore, is a renowned environmental scientist, activist, and the founder of Green Lens International.


1 Comment


This is brilliant. As we fight plastics, we need to also guard lake showers where we NWSC collects water for supply.

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