In Uganda, Coca-Cola Beverages Africa, the subsidiary of soft drinks giant Coca-Cola, has just announced a programme to support plastic waste collectors whose operations are undermined by Covid-19. The programme implemented by Care and Assistance for Forced Migrants (CAFOMI) comes at a time when plastic waste pollution in Lake Victoria is at an all-time high. Uganda is heavily dependent on this great lake.
Under its new programme, Coca-Cola Beverages Africa is providing 110 million Uganda shillings (over $30,000) to support waste pickers across the country. The funds are being made available to Care and Assistance for Forced Migrants (CAFOMI) who will implement the new programme. The aim of this initiative is to enable 833 families to resume their activities, i.e. the collection and sale of plastic waste.
This activity is strongly impacted by the health crisis due to the Covid-19. Plastic waste collectors have stopped collecting due to the temporary closure of the recycling plants. Restrictions on movement have also accelerated the fall in the value of plastic waste, which supports thousands of families throughout Uganda. Yet, “plastic waste collectors play a vital role in our communities today and we hope that others, particularly in the private sector, will emulate Coca-Cola, especially in these difficult Covid-19 times. These waste plastic collectors are our environmental heroes, so we pledge our continued support,” promises Rotarian George Francis Iwa, Managing Director of CAFOMI.
The distribution of the protection kits
The funds made available to CAFOMI by Coca-Cola will enable 411 women and 422 men from 22 districts in Uganda to resume their activities. These collectors, who earn less than $274 a year, will be provided with protective equipment against Covid-19 such as masks and gloves. CAFOMI will also provide them with emergency health care items that include dry food rations.
Coca-Cola Beverages Africa is not the first company to support the collection of the plastic waste it contributes to the environment. In October 2020, the soft drink manufacturer signed a partnership with the Kingdom of Tooro to implement an initiative to clean up the Mpanga River polluted by plastic waste. It remains to be seen whether these few actions are commensurate with the company’s responsibility.
Plastic pollution of Lake Victoria
While these initiatives certainly contribute to reducing plastic waste pollution in Uganda, the situation remains critical in the country, particularly around Lake Victoria, which provides drinking water to the people of the capital Kampala, and abounds in fishing resources exploited by more than 200,000 fishermen. Anyang’ Nyong’o sounded the alarm in 2018 on the situation of this great East African lake.
According to this Kenyan researcher, if pollution from plastic bags and bottles is not stopped within 50 years, the largest lake on the African continent could lose its entire biodiversity. This is because plastic waste and old fishing nets poison and trap the fish that, in search of oxygen, take refuge off the Ugandan coast. But these animals are not immune to the illegal and much-used nets on the lake. With smaller meshes, these nets, banned by the Ugandan authorities, collect everything in their path, including fry.
Jean Marie Takouleu