let’s #BeatPlasticPollution – and justify our so-called wealth and education

AHEAD of the World Environment Day celebrations this Tuesday I found myself in Masaka last weekend along the route of the Uganda Marathon playing the part of sponsor representative while working up sweat.

The Uganda Marathon is so-called because it doesn’t attract the very same crowd as the MTN Kampala Marathon.

Try not to get dizzy as you read this, because we will be on Mars at some point. In fact, have a bottle of water handy.

The organisers – the Masaka Marathon – are the same people who signed up a partnership with Coca-Cola Beverages Africa to collect plastic waste from around Masaka to deliver it to the Plastic Recycling Industries plant in Kampala.

They registered their organisation as the Masaka Marathon because of their interest in running and have a surprisingly vibrant running club in Masaka. Besides that, though, they worked out that running is so popular that there are millions of people out there willing to come to Uganda to run and do more besides.

Hence the Uganda Marathon, which only forms one part of a long tour to Uganda that includes seeing gorillas, chimpanzees and other animals, rafting on the River Nile, and doing some volunteer work for charitable organisations.

People like me who simply drove over from Kampala paid just a few thousand shillings – if any – to take part in the marathon run itself. After that we drove back to live our normal lives.

But some of the people who take part in this Uganda Marathon pay hefty sums of money to come in from far-off countries and take part in the event while enjoying the tourism and life experiences here.

Among the voluntary tasks they performed were the collection of plastic bottles from within Masaka. At one point along the route I saw a young person from Britain actually going along and collecting water bottles that runners had discarded.

The plan, in general, was for the Masaka Collection Centre to collect the used bottles we had contributed and deliver them to Plastic Recycling Industries. They certainly did so but it bugged me that to a casual onlooker it appeared as if Ugandans were dropping bottles for foreigners to come and pick up for us.

That led me to the theme of this year’s World Environment Day – “Beat Plastic Pollution”. It was chosen by this year’s host country, India, for good reason.

Plastic Pollution is a global problem that is only getting worse because of how much plastic we use in packaging all the stuff we keep buying (and, in our case, importing). For us in Uganda the focus is normally on the bottles we take our sodas, juices and water in, that end up in the drainage channels.

Companies like the one I work for tend to step up and take responsibility because they feel it is the right thing to do. But WE Ugandans need to discuss our personal bad habits, terrible behaviour and the dismal culture we have developed.

Why do some Ugandans think it is alright to drive a four-wheel drive vehicle over hundreds of kilometres, stocked with drinks and then occasionally press a button to lower the window so they can toss an empty bottle onto the ground?

A person who can afford to drive that car with the air conditioning on full-time and buy drinks for the journey should surely have the brain power to see that this is wrong?

Dropped Plastic.png

How come that in our Universities – institutions of higher “learning” – we don’t have waste separation with some bins taking organic waste, others for paper and others yet for plastic? In 2018 where there is a man actually putting cars and other machinery onto the Planet Mars, we have University students and professors who can’t keep two bins side-by-side and differentiate between two types of rubbish?

The questions can flow in hundreds without comfortable answers – but YOU should stop and think about your waste disposal situation, considering that YOU can read and comprehend the language this is written in.

Two months ago my eight-year old stopped all conversation at home to raise a major objection.

“Remember the project homework we did about the environment?” she asked, quite upset.

I did.

“Remember we said people should not cut trees…?”

I did.

“Today at school we found they had cut the trees near the gate!” she protested.

I was happy. Her education is working. I told her to raise it with the Headmaster, and she did. So her education is really working well. And her Headmaster explained why the trees had to be trimmed – not cut down. That pleased me even more, because it meant I didn’t have to suddenly change schools.

We should stop focussing these major days and awareness campaigns solely on adults – because we might be a lost cause if all the education and experience and wealth we’ve gathered has failed to make us do simple things like dispose of rubbish properly.

Instead, perhaps we should target the children and get them to develop the right habits to shape their behaviour and create a culture that will secure the future of this nation and the world. That will not be a waste.

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