Why we can’t burn our way out of plastic waste: Kangulumira placement’s efforts to challenge the normal.

Ebeli Martin was a National Team Leader for ICS from February to May this year, leading the Kangulumira placement in Uganda with Lisa, another volunteer. During their placement, his  team tried to change perceptions on recycling.

It’s Tuesday evening and I am at Nakirubi, Uganda as part of my ICS Kangulumira placement with the team. We have been having a back and forth conversation about sustainable waste management because we have a community clean up event on Thursday and we cannot come to a conclusive resolution as regards what to do with plastics!

Every detail about the event is nailed down. The team explains how everything will happen with the exception of what sustainable measure should be done about disposing of plastics.

In rural Uganda and even some urban areas, all domestic waste is collected at specific points and burnt, including plastics. The teams conversation went back and forth on whether, given the communal set up of Nakirubi, the team should stick to the established practice of burning all waste or whether to come up with a simple and practical way to advocate for recycling plastics.

The community clean up

It was risky to overtly advocate for people in the community to recognize recycling or its benefits because it would be out of touch with their daily concerns. In other words, it was not considered a burning problem (forgive the pun) for many community members.  

Luckily for the team, the local leaders were really supportive of the ICS programs and were happy with the teams suggestion to dedicate an area where waste could be collected.

However, as the village leaders did not own the land being used for collecting domestic waste, we could not go ahead with this plan. The discussions that followed were disheartening to everyone who felt that they were failing to find a lasting solution to endemic misuse of plastic waste.  

This being a largely agricultural area, the local leaders were aware about the effects of climate change on the farmer’s planting and harvesting patterns and pledged to devise more environmental friendly mechanisms to deal with plastics. The Nakirubi team decided that on top of the planned clean up, they would plant trees in the area as a way of encouraging environmental friendly land use. The desire to implement and advocate for sustainable waste management cut throughout the Kangulumira placement teams.  

Planting trees

Eventually the team in Kangulumira town came up with an idea of bins specifically for collecting of plastics. You might think that the having bins seems obvious but there was not a single bin in Kangulumira town. The argument against them simply being that no one really cares about where they throw their waste plastics.  

The “Restless” bins were made of wood offcuts and placed on trees in the Kisega area during the team’s clean up with messages encouraging people to deposit plastics in them.  

The question of what would happen when the bins are full of plastics was immediately answered by people in the community who saw it as an economic opportunity. There are people who pick plastics and sell it to recycling companies in larger towns and the bins had actually created a more convenient opportunity for them.  

The Plastic recycling bins

The team were so pleased to see the social responsibility people were taking on to actively dispose of plastics. To say that we expected a dramatic turnaround in how people viewed plastics and their impact on their environment would be unrealistic, but we left the Kangulumira placement with the confidence that small and simple acts will be appreciated in the long term.


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Why we can’t burn our way out of plastic waste: Kangulumira placement’s efforts to challenge the normal.

by wearerestless Reading time: 2 min