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Mbarara: A city choking on plastic waste

May 01, 2023May 01, 2023

21 days ago

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A city is a symbol of wealth, prestige and beauty. This, however, is not the case in the newly created Mbarara city. Fred Turyakira writes about how plastics are strangling the city's environs

The city's vision of "A green, inclusive and sustainable City" is hitting a deadlock due to the alarming status of plastic waste management, caused by rapid rural urbanisation, with the population increasing from 195,013 people (night) as per the 2014 Uganda Population and Housing Census, to the current estimated 300,000 persons during the day.

The shooting population exerts pressure on the fragile natural resources, with poor waste management leading to increase in garbage volume, littering, health problems, pollution of water bodies and silting of road drainages.

Children scavenging for plastics at a landfill

Also, the dumpsite is filled with unsorted and scattered waste. At Kenkombe Sanitary Landfill, the situation is alarming.

It has been turned into a dumping area of unsorted domestic waste, which litters the neighbouring areas of Kenkombe.

The rubbish has formed a mountain along the Kenkombe-Koranorya stretch and eaten up the Kaburangire swamp, a water source for animals.

There is a garbage recycling plant funded by the World Bank and the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), meant to convert organic waste into compost manure and control gases from uncovered garbage from destroying the ozone layer crumbled.

Poor garbage disposal has also become a menace to water sources, including River Rwizi, drainage channels and open spaces, which are chocking on plastic and medical waste.

Domestic waste at a landfill

Waste generators who do not want to pay fees to private service providers, who collect it from homes, have also been accused of aggravating the situation.

Herbert Nimusiima, the senior health officer for Mbarara North Division, says the plastic waste management status is alarming and it is threatening River Rwizi, a lifeline for domestic, commercial and agricultural needs for millions of people in Ankole subregion.

The river originates from Buhweju hills, with various tributaries in Nkore hills, Ntungamo and Sheema hills. It pours its water into Lake Victoria via the drainage systems of lakes Mburo, Kachera and Kijanebalola.

However, poor waste management, especially plastic waste, has led to pollution of the river and its catchments.

In 2021, Rwizi was severely wounded by plastic waste pollution released by factories and companies that pack drinks in plastics, and medical waste in Buremba village, Kakiika, Mbarara North Division.

This attracted the attention of some environmentalists and organisations, including Abahumuza Development Group, Obuntu Nation and End Plastic pollution Uganda. These retrieved plastics using rudimentary means, though it keeps re-merging due to people's attitude.

Why waste ends in water sources

Although Mbarara City Council have made some significant strides in the management of solid waste in the central business areas after coming up with a new approach of the generator paying the principal for the disposal of garbage through private companies that collect garbage from homes to Kenkombe dumpsite.

Mbarara was one of the beneficiaries of $300,000 (about sh525m) from the World Bank and NEMA in 2005 for a garbage recycling plant project.

The main purpose was to convert organic waste into compost manure and control gases from uncovered garbage from destroying the ozone layer on 168 acres of land at Kenkombe landfill, but the council has failed to fulfill its obligations.

Bright Muhumuza, the former contractor at the plant, who worked with Kafunjo Investments Ltd, blames the World Bank and NEMA for withdrawing their staff, leaving the supervision of the project to council authorities, who have since been accused of corruption.

Between 2012 and 2014, when the plant was still under the supervision of the World Bank and NEMA, it used to produce about 100 tonnes of manure every month.

However, production stopped when the council took over, leaving farmers stranded with no source of fertilisers.

"If we want to manage waste and turn it into a productive income generating project, we must give proper accountability and attract companies to inject money into it. A Danish company wanted to start a fertiliser-making plant in Kenkombe, but it pulled out due to land issues. By now, we would be selling fertilisers and also getting crude from the solid waste for commercial purposes," Muhumuza adds.

However, a source within Mbarara City Council explained that the plant's capacity could not handle the volume of garbage generated by the council daily because by the inception of the project, the council was generating 70 tonnes daily, yet the plant could only work on 20 tonnes.

The project became expensive for the council to maintain in terms of input costs and garbage sorters.

The manure that was being manufactured did not fetch enough money, so it was not cost-effective.

The source says Kenkombe was chosen as a temporally dumpsite with plan to shift the garbage to another place, paving way for development.

Sorting a challenge

Waste littering happens during awkward hours, which makes it hard to monitor as the area is vast.

In addition, scavengers looking for recycling waste are always in Kenkombe collecting scrap and selling it to dealers.

The mushrooming cottage industries that use plastic as packing materials have contributed to littering because they supply and do not retrieve their plastics from the community for re-use.

Dangers of poor waste management

Nimusiima says garbage generators are burning plastic and hazardous waste in the open, which is harmful to human and animal health, the environment, and also kills aquatic life.

"Hazardous and highly infectious waste from health facilities sometimes contains blood and is dangerous to human health. Burning of plastics also produces toxic chemicals that cause cancer and respiratory difficulties, among others.

NEMA's reaction

Expressing concern over solid waste management, Jeconius Musingwire, the southwestern NEMA district senior support officer, says the more people move to urban areas, the more waste they generate.

He warns that lack of proper planning for waste management will cause poor health and sanitation in the towns.

"If solid waste is not adequately collected, separated and treated as is the case with Mbarara and other developing towns, waste becomes toxic and can be hazardous, generating long-term and cumulative environmental and human health impacts," Musingwire says.

Levels of awareness

Musingwire says people throw garbage anyhow — what is normally called Not In my Backyard.

After depositing everything in a polythene bag at night, they throw it to whom it may concern.

Recycling plants

He added that Mbarara does not have adequate recycling plants for plastics, but even if the plants were available, the way the waste is collected and kept is a challenge, because cleaning the solid waste to the tune of feeding it to the production line of a recycling plant, will be costly.

Measures to manage plastic waste

Capt. JB Tumusiime Bamuturaki, the chairperson of River Rwizi Catchment Protection Committee, says they have engaged all stakeholders that produce soft drinks on the measures to manage and recollect plastic bottles from consumers.

Other measures discussed include hiring private service providers to collect waste from the source or place garbage skips along River Rwii for the public to deposit waste, instead of littering.

"We have asked the beverage producers to form a monitoring committee to police each other in waste management.

Companies such as Uganda Breweries Ltd, Coca-Cola and GBK Dairies have complied and come up with a system to manage waste and retrieve products from consumers," Tumusiime reveals.

Other interventions to save River Rwizi include organising a marathon/ run, in partnership with Abahumuza Development Group, Ministry of Water and Environment and some factories, and this, according to sources, has created an impact.

Abahumuza Group, Coca-Cola and Uganda Breweries have participated in retrieving plastic waste from the river, sensitised members of the public to put waste in one place for easy collection, as well as putting stoppers along the riverbanks.

Tumusiime argues that managing waste and environmental protection needs a multi-sectorial approach. He advises district, city and municipality leaders to have working structures, starting from the LC1, to sensitise communities on waste management.

Nimusiima indicates that the city, together with NEMA, is looking at revamping the composite plant and also fence off he landfill for better waste management.

They want garbage to be turned into manure to assist in agricultural production.

The other part can be recycled after being sorted at source, which will reduce the volume of garbage taken to the dumpsite.

"We have a proposal with the energy ministry, through the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) project, to establish a recycling plant and also get biogas from waste," he explains.

The sorting from source campaign

Niwagaba David Sancho, the Mbarara city senior environment officer, says they have embarked on training and engaging the LC1 leadership to sensitise their communities to sort solid waste from the source for proper management.

"We have already trained village local council leaders from Kamukuzi and Ruharo wards in Mbarara North to pilot the sorting of garbage from the source. We need to separate plastics and E-wastes from computers, TV screens and phones, from decomposing waste. This will help the service provider collecting garbage to take the sorted one to the landfill and this will reduce on littering," he said.

Niwagaba warned that those defying laws on environment conservation and waste management will be prosecuted.

"NEMA's executive director Dr Barirega Akankwasa issued an express penalty scheme to curb non-compliance to environmental laws, including littering. However, he is waiting for the Solicitor General to advise and once the Government allows, those found littering waste will pay a fine of sh6m. It is better to pay about sh20,000 to a service provider to collect your waste depending on the volume you have, than paying a fine," he adds.


Herbert Nimusiima, the senior health officer for Mbarara North Division, says Mbarara city dwellers generate 250 tonnes of domestic waste per day, of which between 25% and 30% is non-organic (plastics, metallic, medical and hazardous waste).

The city lacks registered, certified and regulated companies to manage plastic waste for recycling.

Since unmanaged plastic waste is prone to wind and floods, the litter ends up in River Rwizi.

Nimusiima attributes poor management of plastic waste to lack of awareness and sensitisation of the generators to sort it from source and separate the biodegradables and non-biodegradables.

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A city is a symbol of wealth, prestige and beauty. This, however, is not the case in the newly created Mbarara city. Fred Turyakira writes about how plastics are strangling the city's environs Children scavenging for plastics at a landfill Domestic waste at a landfill Why waste ends in water sources Sorting a challenge Dangers of poor waste management NEMA's reaction Levels of awareness Recycling plants Measures to manage plastic waste The sorting from source campaign Status