Why green packaging is the way to go

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Plastic bottles and polythene blocking drainage in a Kampala suburb.

By Frank Lukwago, New Vision/NECJOGHA

Kampala, Uganda – The subject of sustainable packaging is predicted to become the number one challenge facing companies by 2023, beating out cost and other issues, according to a 2018 study on the future sustainable packaging by Smithers Pira.

Millions of packaged items are shipped throughout the world to consumers daily, but each of the packaged items creates waste, because many of the common packaging materials cannot be recycled.

There is a hugely wasteful amount of plastics (polythene), cardboard and paper used in packaging but plastics have become a global problem.

The average person reportedly eats 70,000 microplastics each year. According to Ecowatch, between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually. However, in 1974, global plastic consumption per year was 2kg per capita, yet today, this has increased to 43kg and the number is set to increase. According to the National Geographic, if plastic consumption increases at its current rate, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tonnes of plastic in landfills.

 It is estimated that plastic (polythene) bags take 20 to 1000 years to decompose.The Plastics are made from non-renewable resources and cannot biodegrade. They remain in the environment for many years of clogging landfills, polluting rivers and, causing harm to   natural habitats, wildlife, human and animal health and cause climate change.

Taking action

Since 2017, the government has developed the Uganda Green Growth Development Strategy (UGGDS) to operationalise green growth principles and accelerate the implementation of global development goals, Vision 2040 and the Second National Development Plan (NDPII).

Green growth presents an innovative growth plan that simultaneously generates inclusive economic development and sustainability of the environment.

The UGGDS focuses on five core catalytic investment areas of agriculture, natural capital management,green cities(urban development), transport and energy.

The envisaged outcomes of the UGGDS implementation are income and livelihoods enhancement, decent green jobs, climate change adaptation and mitigation, sustainable environment and natural resources management, food and nutrition security, resource use efficiency, and social inclusiveness and economic transformation at sub-national and national levels.

There have been moves by countries and cities around the world, including Uganda, to ban the use of plastics, and the call for the end of single use –use plastics is on a high. Last year, President Yoweri Museveni ordered that section 2 of the 2009 Finance Act should be affected. The Act prohibits the importation, local manufacture, sale or use of plastic bags or polythene.

Kenya introduced one of the world’s toughest laws against plastic bags in 2017. Kenyans caught manufacturing, selling, or even using plastic risk imprisonment for up to four years or fine of $40,000. Other countries that have banned or partially banned or taxed single-use plastic bag include China, France, Tanzania and Italy. These countries are instead encouraging green packaging.

According to the National Geographic, if plastic consumption increases at its current rate, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tonnes of plastic in landfills.

A man displays paper bags he is making in his workshop.

Uganda’s challenge

It is estimated that at least 600 tonnes of plastics are consumed everyday in Uganda and most of them are disposed of irresponsibly. Of the disposed plastics, more than half of them are disposed of in and around Kampala.

Also, at least 51% of the plastic garbage in the city is left uncollected. The plastic waste in turn, becomes the major cause of clogging for the sewerage system in the city. Also, whereas in most countries only 9% of plastic is recycled, in Uganda, it is reported less than 5% of the plastic is recycled.

In March this year at the inaugural National Conference on Plastic Waste Management at Makerere University’s main campus in Kampala, Jamada Kajoba, the deputy mayor of Mukono municipality, suggested that plastic manufacturing companies should be made to pay a fee to local government to help in the management of plastics, saying it is becoming increasingly expensive to manage it.

Why green packaging is crucial 

Green packaging, also known as sustainable packaging, is the use of materials and manufacturing methods for packaging of goods that have a low impact on both energy consumption and on the environment. Green packaging is created in an environmentally aware manner, using biodegradable and recyclable materials, and is energy efficient according to plushbeds.com.

According to a study on whether green packaging matters as a business strategy, it was found that packaging does not  only serve to protect the main product , but is also expected to be environmentally friendly, to reduce environmental problems associated with waste from packaging materials.

It was stated in the study findings that the business sector needs to consider green packaging as one of the company’s competitive strategies.

By using green packaging, it is possible for manufacturers and consumers to eliminate the contaminants and chemicals that destroy water, soil and atmosphere of our planet. This can be achieved by creating biodegradable and recyclable packaging materials that include biodegradable plastics,plant-based plastics, recycled products, alternative energy sources, and post consumer recycled polythene bags made from recycled waste.

As environmental pollution is increasingly becoming worse, the best way we can control or limit damage to the environment is to go green and switch to environmentally-friendly packaging.

Last year, the global green packaging market was expected to grow more than 60%. This is driven by waste reduction targets, increasing awareness of carbon emissions, rapidly growing economies, a lack of natural resources, and consumers’ preferences for eco-friendly products.

Global demand for green packaging market was valued at $161.50b in 2015 and is forecast to reach $242.50b in 2021, growing at a rate of 7% per annum between 2016 and 2021.

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