27 June 2010

Uganda: The Brighter Side of Mineral Water Bottles

Kampala — Plastic bottles lace the entire surface and banks as the muddy water snakes its way to its final resting place. A horrible stench fills the air. I hold my nose, the stench but is no big deal to everyone else; people are going about their business normally.

Nakivubo, that age-old drainage channel in Kampala, is fast wasting away, choking with garbage.

As the volume of water increases, so does the volume of waste bottles in the channel. With no strict garbage disposal system in place, the bottles have become a big environmental threat.

A United Nations report indicates that over 160 billion plastic bottles are manufactured worldwide annually, but 80% of these find their way into the sea, rivers, lakes, streams and water channels.

Unfortunately, these water bodies are a source of water for many people, some of whom cannot afford to purify it.

Kampala city is already a victim of careless waste disposal with channels like Nsooba, Nakayima and Nakivubo choking with plastic material.

New technology a remedy

However, a new technology, known as the 'bottle brick' has been introduced and experts say it is likely to solve this perilous waste disposal of plastics.

John Haley, the initiator of the technology, says it started nine years ago in India, South and Central America. He says people in Central and Southern America have fully embraced it to erect even storied buildings.

"Unlike most places in Africa where people dispose of plastics carelessly, in central and southern America, people are reusing the plastics for building. This has relieved the environment of the terrible impact posed by the waste plastics," Haley notes.

In Uganda, the 'bottle brick' technology has already began and the first structure, a latrine, has already been constructed at Bwetyaaba in Kayunga district.

Stephen Ssemutumba, the founder of Butakoola Village Association for Development (BUVAD), says the technology came into use after a survey was carried out in Kayunga.

According to the survey, Ssemutumba says, many farmers in the district had started registering failures in agriculture.

"Soil fertility was deteriorating as a result of poor methods of disposal of plastics.

These plastics would suffocate the soils affecting the aeration in soil required for crop yielding," says Ssemutumba.

He discloses that plastic bottles are water repellent and they block water flow. Ssemutumba says the high rate of waste plastic disposal leaves nearly every water channel in the country blocked hence floods during the rains.

Jessica Eriyo, the state minister for environment, says the bottle brick technology of building will save the environment and help address the hygiene problem in most parts of the country.

She says the central region tops in careless plastic bottle disposal because the rate of consumption of bottled water is higher than other other regions.

Eriyo also warns against packing drinks like juice in an already-used bottle because it poses serious health risks.

She says since the bottle brick is environmentally friendly, the ministry will consider its merits in both building and conserving the environment.

The BUVAD team has already constructed a four-stance latrine for 627 pupils of Bwetyaaba Primary School using waste plastic bottles as bricks.

First technology in Afrca

Ssemutumba says the kind of building technology is the first of its kind in Africa, and Uganda in particular.

"The project started with training people on how to fill empty plastic bottles with soil to make strong brick out of them.

The trainees were also taught how to mix the material to be used at different construction levels while saving on construction materials to avoid extravagancy," Ssemutumba says.

He says bottle bricks are a good substitute for mud bricks while building houses, walls and water tanks. He adds that mud bricks are an environmental threat as the process requires cutting down of many trees.

“The effect is visible during the process of brick-laying. Trenches and gullies are created compounding the problem of soil erosion, landslides and loss of lives,” explains Ssemutumba.

Kayunga more alert

The training of Kayunga residents received in the bottle brick technology has given them environmental awareness and made them more cautious.

Ssemutumba says the residents are aware that when they purchase mineral water bottles, they have also bought bricks for construction.

Sarah Nawaggi, BUVAD coordinator, says although plastics are used in many fields, there are many environmental concerns associated with their use.

"One of the positive characteristics of plastics is durability. Unfortunately, this is not a positive characteristic when it comes to the environment," she explains.

Nawaggi says through proper reuse of plastic bottles, the environment will be conserved.

Nicholas Ssenyonjo of the Uganda Environmental Education Foundation, says despite the profits water beverage manufacturers are making, they have not come up with means of recollecting plastics.

He attributes the careless disposal of plastics to lack of conventional means of disposal. "The technology is a good initiative which needs support because it can tremendously reduce the interaction of plastics with the soils," Ssenyonjo says.

He calls upon Ugandans to to be mindful of the environment and avoid disposing plastics carelessly.

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