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World Earth Day 2024 : A Choice Plastics Vs Planet :: Uganda Radionetwork

World Earth Day 2024 : A Choice Plastics Vs Planet

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UN Secretary General, António Guterres says humanity is acting like Mother Earth’s delinquent child.
22 Apr 2024 12:33
Earth Day Uganda Photo by Earth Day Network Uganda
Today 22nd April is Earth Day being commemorated worldwide to raise awareness about plastics. Day is an annual event, where the world unites to serve a day dedicated to environmental protection and raising awareness regarding the challenges facing our planet. 

Earth Day serves as a yearly ‘wake-up call’, shaking us out of complacency and urging us to confront the harsh reality of plastics and our impact on the planet.

Earth Day 2024 Theme: ‘Planet Vs Plastic’

This year’s Earth Day theme, “Planet vs. Plastics,” brings attention to the serious issue of plastic pollution and how it harms nature.  “Planet vs. Plastic”—calls for a 60% reduction in plastic use by 2040. 

The billions of items of plastic waste that pollute oceans, lakes, and rivers, are also making their way into food systems, resulting in a direct threat to human health The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 22 April as International Mother Earth Day through a resolution adopted in 2009. 

The Day recognizes the Earth and its ecosystems as humanity's common home and the need to protect her to enhance people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change, and stop the collapse of biodiversity.

Climate change, man-made changes to nature as well as crimes that disrupt biodiversity, such as deforestation, land-use change, intensified agriculture and livestock production or the growing illegal wildlife trade, can accelerate the speed of destruction of the planet. 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ message for International Mother Earth Day, said Humanity is acting like Mother Earth’s delinquent child. Guterres says repairing relations with Mother Earth is the mother of all of humanity’s challenges. 

“We must act — and act now — to create a better future for us all,” he said in a message. Guterres notes that we depend on nature for the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink.

“We have brought chaos to the natural world:  poisoning our planet with pollution, wiping out species and ecosystems with abandon and destabilizing our climate with greenhouse gas emissions. Earth Day 2024 comes as a worrying new report found that global concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide—the top three heat-trapping gases—reached a record high again in 2023. The Plastics Menace

A statement from the US Agency For International Development (USAID)  said “ Imagine a garbage truck full of plastic: old food containers, water bottles, wrapping from packages delivered to your door. That’s the amount of plastic waste that is dumped into the ocean every single minute,”

It said what’s worse, as demand for plastics grows, experts estimate that by 2030, this rate will increase to the equivalent of two garbage trucks per minute – and by 2040, three garbage trucks per minute. Plastic pollution is becoming inescapable. Microplastics – tiny pieces of plastic so small that the human eye cannot easily see them – are now contaminating the food we eat , the air we breathe, the water we drink, and, unsurprisingly, our bodies themselves

The situation in Uganda is no different. In 2018, NEMA said Uganda has a Country produced over 12,330 metric tons of PET plastics since 2018. “In Kampala Metropolitan Area, 135,804 tons of plastic waste are generated per year. Of this, 42% is uncollected, 15% is collected through the value chain approach, and 43% is collected by the service providers.  About 21,728T of plastics is burned 47,457T is landfilled/dumped, 27,160T is retained on land and 13,580T finds its way into water systems.

“As a consequence of plastic pollution, we see increased unexplained cancers, floods, poor water quality, poor air quality, decreased soil fertility, siltation of waterbodies, death of livestock, fish and wildlife through ingestion and entanglement and above all, enhanced greenhouse gas emissions,” said  Dr. Tom Okurut (RIP) 

Dr. Okurut who was laid to rest over the weekend was of the view that the biggest person to control the plastic menace is the Ugandans who use the plastic bags. “If they have the discipline of collecting the plastics. Even the small ones that they take. If they have the discipline of collecting and bringing it back, we can deal with plastics” he said.
WWF Uganda Country Director Ivan Tumuhimbise suggests the need to create an enabling environment to ensure that the reuse market has a stronger business case than the single-use plastics market.

“Studies show that reuse systems provide the highest opportunity to reduce plastic pollution by replacing some of the most problematic and unnecessary products,” he said.

Why is plastic dangerous for our environment?

In 2023, Greenwatch- an Environmental advocacy group based in Kampala released findings of a study on laws on plastics and their enforcement in Uganda. It noted that when plastics are not removed from the soil, they seep into the groundwater and as well find their way into water bodies such as lakes, rivers, and oceans causing water pollution.

“The plastics are then consumed by the fish we eat. 1 in 5 fish in Lake Victoria have been found to have ingested plastic. Animals and aquatic organisms such as fish, birds, turtles have reportedly died from ingesting or getting entangled in plastic debris” said the study.  

In 2003, Greenwatch filed a public interest case against the Attorney General and the National Environment Management Authority. 

Greenwatch in the case famously known as the “Kaveera case”) sought a total ban on plastic products particularly polythene bags because of their hazardous impact on the environment and human health.  

Justice Eldad Mwangusya in 2012 ruled that “All this court can say is that whoever is involved in the process of enacting a law towards the protection of the environment should do so as a matter of urgency because the damage is likely to be extremely costly. In view of this observation the best this court can do is make a declaration that the manufacture, distribution, use, sale, sell, disposal of plastic bags, plastic containers, plastic food wrappers and all other forms of plastic commonly known as kaveera violates the rights of citizens of Uganda to a clean and healthy environment as acknowledged by both parties.”       

The 2020 Waste Management Regulations prohibit the importation, sale and use of plastic bags and other plastics used for packaging, and provide for offences and penalties. 

The regulation further imposes a duty on every person to minimize the generation of plastic waste and requires every person who buys or uses plastic carrier bags to undertake measures to minimize single-use plastics by using reusable containers.  

Section 76 (2) of the NEMA Act 2019 states that the Minister shall, in consultation with the Authority, lead agencies and relevant stakeholders, put in place criteria for the documentation, handling, storage, recycling, re-use, and disposal of plastics and plastic products and provides for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and product stewardship .

Greenwatch noted that while the laws and regulations against plastics exist in Uganda, they have not been enforced because of lack of political will.