As we headed to Uganda Museum, we found five women busy making biodegradable bags at their work place as an alternative shopping bags following the government’s recent decision to ban the manufacture and importation of polythene bags.
Josephine Debuni, a craft dealer who was among the group, has been doing this activity for many years as one way of saving the environment from degradation.
She said she doubled her efforts when she heard of the ban with the hope of making some money.
She had increased her stock of biodegradable shopping bags locally referred as “ekikapu” expecting to make a big killing unfortunately this was never to be due to a number of factors.
“When you look at the Kikapu bags in the current situation and the trend now days, the youth look at using these bags as something which is old fashioned but our parents and our grandparents used to use the kikapu for shopping,” she said.
Kikapu could be an innovative way to save the environment from plastics. It is made out of banana fibres, palm leaves and artistically crafted to attract buyers.
In Uganda, the most popular imported and manufactured polythene bags are those below 30 microns and research has shown that plastic takes years to decompose and even when they break down, they do not fully degrade.
Micro plastics contaminate the environment and the food sources of humans and animals.
Biodegradability and compostability properties and its high content of renewable raw materials allow optimal organic waste management, reduce the environmental impact and contribute to the development of virtuous systems, with significant advantages throughout the entire production-consumption-disposal cycle.
To the disappointment of the environmentalists, once the polythene bags remain in use, it affects the use of the recommended biodegradable materials such as Kikapu which would have helped to save the environment from the long term effects of these plastics.
The amount of plastic bags in the environment has become a huge problem.
Environmentalists say paper bags are the best replacement for polythene bags.
Onesmus Mugyenyi, the manager environment democracy at Acode, believes that If the country had a national campaign that is supported by the president, parliament, cabinet, traditional leaders, kingdoms across the country and the local government, a lot of work would have been done as far as proper disposal of these polythene bags is concerned.
He suggests that if the government is to adopt and find acceptable alternatives to kaveera, it should create economic incentives for the production of paper, and craft bags, promoting reuse and recycling of polythene bags.
“If you impose a ban and create economic incentives for the industries that are ready to produce alternatives, it is possible,”he said.
There are several single-use plastic bag replacement options available and every option has a different sustainability footprint when it comes to the energy and water used during the manufacturing process.
Environmentalists believe that if one is looking to use the ban as a way to meet sustainability goals, selecting an alternative material that leaves a smaller footprint on the earth will be the best option and if one is looking for the most cost-effective alternative, he or she may not be getting the most environmentally friendly alternative.