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Uganda Bans Plastic Bags, Still a Tough Battle Lies Ahead

As is the case with most other developing countries, plastic bags have become a terrible environmental threat in Uganda.

As the situation seems to be spiraling out of control, the government has announced a ban on the all pervasive plastic bags.

In Uganda they are called buveera , and they are everywhere.

Only a tiny fraction of them end up at an organized dump like the one at Chitezi in Ugandan capital Kampala. Instead, once discarded, they are blown in the wind, washed into drains and water courses and eventually ground into the earth.

The country is blessed with some of the richest soil in Africa, but around the towns and villages it is laced with plastic.

New strata are forming - a layer cake of polythene and poisoned soil, through which Uganda's rains can never percolate.

In the slums and shanties buveera are breeding grounds for disease.

With no mains water and no sewerage system, the bags are used as toilets. Flying latrines they are called, because when you have filled them, you throw them as far away as you can.

And when the rains come and wash them out there is a good chance that some little boy or girl sent on an errand will see a bag in the street and use it again, to carry firewood or maybe food.

After a fair amount of stalling, the government announced that from 1 July the manufacture, import and use of plastic bags thinner than 30 microns was being banned. All other polythene would be subject to a whopping 120% tax.

The country's environment minister, Jesca Eriyo, conceded that that she was embarrassed by her capital city's lamentable standards of waste management; by the Chitezi dump; by its sea of polythene, and its flying latrines.

Now, at last, they could all be headed for the exit door. And not just in Uganda. Neighbouring Kenya is introducing similar legislation. Tanzania wants to go even further and ban plastic drinks co ntainers as well.

Despite its problems and its poverty, East Africa is blazing a trail which many in prosperous Middle England can only dream of following, a BBC correspondent says.

Still the question remains whether these poor countries will have the necessary resources to come up with alternative systems of waste management.


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