By Anne Robi
Magesa Charles is a vendor of plastic bottled water in Mwanza City, Tanzania. The 22-year-old man wakes up every day to collect 50 to 80 bottles from industrial companies to sell in the streets of the city.
“I usually go to the city agents of companies every day, and collect bottled water, to sell to the people in the streets,” he says and adds, “The business pays a lot and I don’t intend to stop it.”
Magesa is among many young and energetic youth in Mwanza engaging in the selling of the plastic bottled beverages in the city.
But where do most of the bottles go after use? Do the vendors and the companies selling plastic bottled beverages collect back the plastic for proper disposal?
“We don’t collect; my work is to sell and not collecting bottles; there are people from the city council who are entitled to do the work,” says Wankio Mwita, a bottled water vendor in Mwanza.
A survey conducted by ‘Daily News’ in some streets of Mwanza City found that the city was rampant with wastes – mostly plastic wastes.
Lake Victoria is one of the highlights of Mwanza Region in Tanzania. The second-largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Victoria is shared by Uganda and Kenya along with Tanzania. This reporter visited the shores of the Lake in Nyamagana District, Mwanza Region, where waste is rampant. Fishermen blame the problem on poor management of trash.
“We do not have a specific place to dump the bottles after use as you can see; there is no even a single bin for collecting the wastes. People are dropping the bottles and other dirty everywhere and later the wastes find their way into the lake,” says Samson Kamala, a fisherman.
He says that plastic wastes in Lake Victoria are accumulating every day. “We go through the waters every time to catch fish; what we often come across is heaps of plastic wastes instead of fish,” says Kamala. “We even suspect the plastic wastes in the waters are killing the fish,” he says, adding that fish stock in Lake Victoria is declining day by day.
“We used to catch a lot of fish, but as the days go by the stock of fish we find is declining and we suspect the accumulating wastes in the Lake are the cause of the decline,” he says.
A 2015 study in Mwanza Region of Tanzania, located on the southern shore of Lake Victoria examined the presence of plastics in the gastrointestinal tracts of locally fished Nile perch and Nile tilapia
Plastics were confirmed in 20 percent of fish from each species, with the most likely sources urban waste and consumer use.
An Environmental Management Officer and the City Cleansing Coordinator in Mwanza City Council, Fanuel Kasesene, admits the presence of plastic wastes in Lake Victoria waters, noting that the waste is flowing into the Lake from the streets of Mwanza.
“We did a mini-study to find out the source of the plastic wastes in the Lake and we realized that the wastes were coming from the land. We came across different types of brands of plastic bottles and other materials made by the local companies,” he says.
Despite having waste management policies and rules in the city, Mr Kasesen says that there is rapid increase of plastics production in response to economic growth, a move that is posing challenges in managing the wastes produced daily.
“We have waste management policies in line; the city has got waste management rules but we lack sustainable waste management practices from the consumers of the end products and the producers of the plastic products,” he says.
He says the city council has set up sufficient waste collection centres with sound disposal methods in many parts of the city but the majority of the consumers of the end products are not disposing the plastic wastes and other materials properly.
“Littering of plastic wastes in the open is a very common practice from the consumer; they buy drinks and drop the plastic wastes in open areas, roadside ditches and when it rains, the wastes are flown into the waterways such as River Mirongo of Mwanza which connects to Lake Victoria,” he says.
Mr Kasesen blames the plastic product companies for not putting up a plan to manage the wastes of their end products.
“The plastic product companies are the main people to blame on plastic pollution in our environment; they don’t establish systems to recover wastes of their end products; what they do is just produce plastic products and sell them off to the markets,” he says.
He says that the companies have the mandate to establish their own systems of recovering their plastic wastes in order to stop littering..
City to conduct audit, hold companies to account
The environment department in Mwanza City Council is currently conducting an assessment to establish the current condition of plastic wastes in the environment and the waters of Lake Victoria, understand the percentage of the wastes produced by each company, and engage the companies in managing the plastic wastes in the city.
“We are conducting an assessment to know the main contributors of plastic waste in our land and later call them and show them the results and engage them in managing the waste,” Kasenen says. The assessment is being conducted in line with educating the public to stop littering and manage waste disposal methods in their areas.
The Head of Environment Department of Mwanza City Council says the department will conduct an audit of the brands producing plastic waste and call the companies to show them how they are contributing to plastic pollution.
“We will call the industrialists concerned with the brands and show them how they are contributing to the plastic pollution in Lake Victoria,” he says. Many of these brandsare produced by local companies such as Azam, Bonite Bottlers Company and Mohammed Enterprises, he says.
“We cannot stop the companies from producing the plastic products but we must engage them in searching for solutions to tackle the plastic waste they are producing,” he says.
In Dar es Salaam, a community clean-up in April of Kigamboni-Ferry Beach by Nipe Fagio and the Flipflopi Expedition, advocacy organizations fighting plastic waste, found that Styrofoam was the largest contributor to plastic waste on the beach, followed by plastic beverage bottles and bottle caps. The biggest brands were Mo Extra, Mango and Tanga Fresh, owned by companies including Metl (producing 65 percent of the waste collected), U Fresh Food Ltd, and Tanga Fresh Ltd.
In Mwanza, the plastic product companies together with the stakeholders will be engaged in developing a plastic waste management strategy and implementing in city, according to Kasenen “We will engage them [the companies] in identifying alternative actions of managing the plastic wastes in our city,”he says.
He says the move is being conducted in response to the Tanzania Environment Act of 2004 which stipulates that development activities must be assessed for environmental impact.
He also says that Mwanza City Council has put in place policies that guard against pollution of the environment. The Council also conducts public awareness on environment and economic impacts of mismanaged plastic waste.
This InfoNile / WanaData story was produced with support from JRS Biodiversity Foundation and Code for Africa as part of the WaterCommons initiative and the Code for All Exchange Program, funded by the National Democratic Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy.