What does the future hold for the basin's lifeline amidst rampant plastics pollution?


What does the future hold for the basin’s lifeline amidst rampant plastics pollution? 

It’s a sunny afternoon, and Kampala’s downtown in the city’s central business area is busy as usual. At the heart of downtown is the country’s largest garages complex (Kiseka market), a taxi park, a bus park, shopping malls, an agro-input market, as well as the famous Owino market, a one-stop place for all food and clothing items.

Coincidentally, this heavily populated and busy area is traversed by the Nakivubo channel, the city’s biggest drainage outlet that empties into Lake Victoria through the Nakivubo wetland. 

The water in the channel carries along several items, notably plastic water and beverage bottles, used polythene bags – with some visibly containing some items inside, among others. 

This pollution comes from people, businesses, and factories along the channel.

Kampala s Qualicel bus terminal complex on the east bank of Nakivubo channel is a bee hive of activities
Kampala's Qualicel bus terminal complex on the east bank of Nakivubo channel is a beehive of activities
Sights of plastics clogging water channels that empty into Lake Victoria swamps are common in different areas of Kampala City
Sights of plastics clogging water channels that empty into Lake Victoria swamps are common in different areas of Kampala City

Kagimu Sulait, a broker at the Kampala taxi park, who directs passengers to public transport vehicles plying different routes out of Kampala, says throwing plastics and polythene bags into the channel is common and “normal.”

“What is thrown in the channel is taken away,” narrates Kagimu, noting that “that’s the importance of the channel.”

Harriet Nakise, a beverages vendor in the Owino Market, concurs with Kagimu.

“Some business owners collect and manage their waste until they take it to the collection centres or is picked by the collectors. Others don’t, so they dump in the drainage channel at night, very early in the morning, or during a downpour when no one is watching them,” says Nakise.

However, she observes that the channel’s biggest polluter is the ordinary consumer who doesn’t care where they throw plastic bottles after taking a drink.  

Plastics polluting the Nakivubo channel easily end up in Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile – the world’s longest river. 

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Lake Victoria, the world’s largest tropical lake, which is shared by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Credit: Megan S. Lee

According to the UN environment watchdog, UNEP plastics are, “polymers which are a chain of molecules that are derived from small molecules of monomers that are extracted from oil or gas.” They are categorized based on their size. Macroplastics are larger than 20 millimeters; mesoplastics range from 5–10 millimeters; while microplastics are less than 5 millimeters. 

Dr. David Were, a water quality researcher and lecturer at Makerere University, Kampala, says the vast majority of plastic does not biodegrade and “remains in the environment, largely unaltered for very long periods.”

According to the scoping report “Plastic Waste Transport from the Nile River and its Major Tributaries into the Marine Environment” undertaken by GIZ in cooperation with the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), plastic causes a wide range of negative effects once released into the environment.  

“Basing on several studies done recently, the study notes that, “plastic pollution currently causes and has the potential to cause severe danger to flora and fauna; blocks drainage systems, canals, and other waterways resulting in floods; degrades landscapes, and is ubiquitous in the environment, even in the food chain.”

The report identifies 29 critical marine hotspots in urbanized areas in the Nile basin, including cities such as Kampala in Uganda, Khartoum in Sudan, Mwanza in Tanzania, and Bujumbura in Burundi, among others. 

In Uganda, Nakivubo channel is not the only drainage way into Lake Victoria that is polluted with plastics. 

Streams and the drainage channels that drain through other Kampala city areas like Bweyogerere, Kireka, Mbuya, Kasokoso, Kansanga, and Ggaba pour a large amount of plastic debris into the adjacent wetlands leading into Lake Victoria and the Nile. The situation is similar in the urban areas of Entebbe and Jinja City that neighbor Lake Victoria.

In Kenya, most rivers in Kisii town and its environs are heavily polluted with plastics and polythene papers. Plastics are visible in the Daraja Mbili and Nyakomisaro rivers, which are the primary water sources for Kisii and Migori county residents. The two rivers also drain into Lake Victoria.

Like in Uganda, plastic pollution in Kenya is attributed to markets and human activities such as the construction of roads and buildings. This pollution presents significant issues of concern to residents. 

Truphena Kerubo, a Kisii town resident, says the water is too dirty for domestic use, urging the county government to devise strategies to curb the issue.

“Sometimes those bottles and food remains are thrown in the river at night. You will get sick if you use this water,” says Kerubo.

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Nyakomisaro river in Kisii town, Kisii county, Kenya

Peter Muiruri, another Kisii town resident, says the river cannot help the residents, since sometimes the sewerage is directed into it.

“We don’t know where that sewerage comes from. We see it sometimes flowing during the daytime and the night. This water is used downstream and may be affecting people and animals,” says Muiruri.

According to the GIZ study, solid waste management is one of the major challenging issues in developing countries. The study identifies inadequate coverage, limited waste recycling activities, and inadequate landfill management as significant causes of poor waste management in the region. “The causes of poor waste management also largely lie at financial constraints partly explained in constrained budgetary allocation, poor financial planning and low economic status of households,” the study found. 

From Lake Victoria, the Nile meanders to South Sudan before traversing Sudan on the way to the Mediterranean Sea via Egypt.

A young boy watches his fellow youth as they swim in the Nile River near waste disposed by rainwater, South Sudan

In South Sudan, the plastic pollution problem gets no better, with the situation worse in the capital city, Juba. 

Soro Lojokudu, a South Sudanese citizen living along the Nile, says human behavior is to blame for Juba’s excess plastics and waste pollution. The plastics find their way into the Nile through the small tributaries.

“Not only are the plastics dumped into the river, but also human waste. The government has to come up to protect this important resource,” Lojokudu notes.

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Boats in River Nile close to the source of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda

River Nile serves as the primary water source for Juba residents for different purposes since there is no piped water. Water is often brought into homes by water tankers directly from the river, posing a threat to the population’s health.

Elizabeth Sinesio Ladu, the director of environment and sanitation at Juba city council, observes that the biggest challenge they face is the people who dump on the roadside. These plastic pollutants find their way into the environment and the Nile. 

A Thirsty City with a Lake and a River

In neighboring Sudan, the situation is almost the same. About 67 percent of the solid waste, primarily plastic, is not collected from the environment, according to the scoping report.  A significant percentage of this waste is plastic. Sudan is a giant African country with a population of 46 million people.

If plastic materials accumulate in the environment, they can easily find their way into water bodies, gardens, and farms, primarily through direct littering or dumping. 

Just like most urban centers in the Nile Basin, most waste in Sudan is generated in Khartoum city, producing 1.53 kgs of solid waste per person daily. In the larger Khartoum state, about “37% of the generated waste (are) uncollected and disposed of illegally.” 


Plastics are non-biodegradable. They remain in areas where they are disposed of for several years unchanged, for decades and centuries depending on the materials they are made of and the environment they are in, with some lasting for more than 500 years, according to Dr. David Were, a water quality researcher and lecturer at Makerere University, Kampala.

The unmanaged municipal solid waste in Sudan is reportedly increasing due to rapid urbanization and inefficiencies in the municipal solid waste management system (MSWMS). 

East of Sudan, Bahir Dar City in northwestern Ethiopia is nestled on the shores of the vast Tana Lake, the source of the Blue Nile River, which is the major contributing tributary of the River Nile. 

The GIZ Scoping Report identifies Bahir Dar as a riverine litter hotspot.

Abay (Blue Nile) River flows out of Lake Tana, Ethiopia

Communities living around the Nile River and Lake Tana still rely on the river for washing clothes and bathing. Some who also depend on raw water for drinking face increasing waterborne diseases.

Studies show that plastic pollution is also a big threat to the lake’s biodiversity. The overall generation of municipal waste in Ethiopia is estimated at 6 million tonnes a year, as of 2015. The GIZ study underlines the uncontrolled dumping of waste in urban spaces and landfills as one of the gaps in waste management.

The report further identifies the main riverine litter contributor in Bahir Dar around Lake Tana as the tourism and service industry. 

An earlier report by the Amhara Region Urban Development Housing and Construction Bureau in Bahir Dar in November 2020 identified 21 sources of marine debris in Lake Tana, 14 of which belonged to the leisure and tourism sectors. The contributors have exacerbated plastic pollution, soil erosion, effluent discharge into Lake Tana, and flooding vulnerability.

Bahir Dar City cleaning and beautification workers burn plastic waste on the Blue Nile river, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
Plastic garbage in the side waterfall of the Blue Nile, Ethiopia: Amhara Multimedia Production
According to Asefa Degsewe, a fisherman in Bahir Dar city, “the lake’s and the river’s waters are polluted due to sewage and plastic materials.”  “The smell has changed, and now taking pictures, traveling, fishing, and standing near the lake and the Blue Nile river is difficult,” he adds. He further says that tanneries, textile factories, hotels, and universities have worsened the pollution of the Blue Nile. The city is home to a 75-hectare industrial park with several textile and apparel industries.

Piling on shorelines

Traveling down to central Africa, from the mountains of southeast Burundi trickles the most distant source of the Nile River’s waters: the Ruvyironza river, which eventually flows into Lake Victoria.

In the country’s capital city of Bujumbura, 70 miles northwest of this source, the situation is not much different from Ethiopia.  

Three rivers: Ntahangwa, Muha, and Kanyosha, are the main channels through which plastics head straight to Lake Tanganyika, the second-oldest freshwater lake in the world that is shared by four countries.

But also, as in other urban centers, it is rare to walk one mile without noticing a used plastic bottle. These, too, are easily washed by runoffs and end up in Lake Tanganyika or riparian rivers threatening aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity.

A small dumping site at Kanyosha River, Burundi. When it rains it deports everything into Lake Tanganyika, threatening the biodiversity.

Burundi produces 1.87 million tonnes of municipal solid waste per year, but disposal is mainly unregulated, according to the GIZ report.

While Burundi is in the Nile Basin, it is also part of the Lake Tanganyika basin, which is shared by Burundi (8%), the Democratic Republic of Congo (45%), Tanzania (41%), and Zambia (6%).

Lake Tanganyika, the second deepest in the world, is home to thousands of species, including fish, mammals, plants, and birds. It provides shelter, and more than one million people rely on it to feed their families.   

Large quantities of used plastic bottles of soft drinks are common on most shorelines of lakes and rivers in Burundi, as well as in Tanzania, Burundi’s much-bigger neighbour. When it rains, plastic items gathered from urban centers pile up on the shores of these water bodies. 

Most of the plastic waste that drains into this lake originates from the urban centers around it. Along with Bujumbura, environmentalists point a finger at Kigoma in Tanzania.

Similarly, most plastics from mainland Tanzania drain into the Indian Ocean through the urban centers on the coast such as Dar es Salaam.

According to the Tanzania National Guidance for Plastic Pollution Hotspotting Report, 29,000 tonnes of plastic leaked to oceans, rivers and lakes in 2018. 

The same report shows that 95 percent of the plastic waste generated in Tanzania is mismanaged, ending up in the environment. 

Environmental journalist Rose Mweko narrates that careless dumping of plastic waste in most urban centers of Tanzania is causing drainage channels to clog.

“Plastic waste thrown into the rivers and lake is affecting fish production,” notes Mweko, further noting that, “sometimes aquatic organisms eat this plastic waste, which harms them.”

Women in Geita, Tanzania collecting plastic waste in a recycling plant

Just like in urban centers, rural communities in Burundi and Tanzania are experiencing a growth in plastic deposits.

Plastic bottles remain one of the critical elements rural communities use daily for various purposes, including carrying drinking water, chemicals, fertilizers, and use in irrigation. Again, most of these end up in water bodies.

“For example, each morning, we find bottles of juice and other alcoholic drinks left here on the sand; after a few hours, due to waves, they are deported into the lake,” says Felix Miburo, a fisherman in Burundi.

Two retailers standing outside a market in Burundi selling palm oil packaged in Kinju plastic bottles. The bottles end up in houses and are often mismanaged.

In an attempt to control plastics, the Burundi Bureau of Standards and Quality (BBN) suspended license applications for alcohol exporters after they violated export and import norms back in August 2021.

“The ethanol content of alcoholic products above 16.5% without being supplied in a 200-milliliter glass bottle is forbidden on the market,” said the then-BBN General Director Isidora Ntakiyiruta.

She also noted that alcoholic beverages with more than 16.5% alkaline content packaged in plastic bottles cannot be certified and licensed by BBN unless the packaging was changed.

Packaged plastic bottles of energy drink, the second-most consumed in Burundi after Kinju water. Retailers are ready to ship them to Rumonge, southwestern Burundi, which borders Lake Tanganyika.

Despite Burundi banning plastic bags in 2018, dumping of plastic papers and bottles still occurs widely as the country lacks clear rules and regulations on plastics management. However, the ban is resulting in a reduced number of plastic imports. 

According to 2019 data released by the Ministry of Agriculture, Environment, and Livestock and the Burundi Tax Authority (OBR), imports of plastic bags and sacks dropped from about 180 million kilograms to 82,282 kilograms in the first quarter of 2019. Imports of plastic bottles also dropped from 1.6 million kilograms  to 628,884 kilograms in the same period.  

In Tanzania, to manage plastics, the government decentralized its management. Local governments now supervise the recyclable waste collectors while the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) plays an oversight role to ensure smooth execution of the law. 

In May 2019, Tanzania prohibited the import, export, manufacturing, sale and use of plastic bags, regardless of thickness.

According to the National Environment Management Council (NEMC), this ban aimed at protecting the environment while helping “non-woven bags” penetrate the market.

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A man and his children pick plastic wastes from River Nile in Egypt.

In Egypt, the Nile River finally completes its 6,650-kilometre journey to drain into the Mediterranean Sea. Renowned Egyptian science journalist, Rehab Abd Almohsen, says the Nile Delta and the capital Cairo are considered the hotspot of plastic litter with the highest population density, major industrial cities, and intense human activities.

Some of this plastic waste drains into river Nile, the source of water for drinking and crop irrigation in the country, and some is consumed by fish and other marine life within the river.

And this has been specifically proved. For an example, a study published in 2020, indicated that “fish were purchased from local sellers in Cairo, and then their gastrointestinal tracts were dissected and examined for MPs (micro plastics). Over 75% of the fish sampled contained MPs in their digestive tract (75.9% for Nile tilapia and 78.6% for catfish).”

According to Almohsen, the problem of plastic litter in Egypt has not been successfully addressed due to the lack of legal instruments, lack of operational infrastructure, lack of inadequate awareness raising campaigns, and inadequate education for sustainable development programs.

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The Nile in Cairo, Egypt. The Nile is the source of water for most capital cities in the Nile Basin. However, these cities are sources of the plastics that drain into the Nile.

The other major hotspot of plastic litter in Egypt is the touristic and industrial city of Alexandria, which is listed as one of the major cities contributing to plastic waste in the eastern Mediterranean basin.

A study focused on micro plastics contamination in this city, published in 2022 found microplastics contamination in commercial fish caught from this area.

According to Almohsen, apart from the general population, other sources of plastic pollution in Egypt comes are fish farms, extensive Nile cruises, and major industries in the country.

She cites an example of Damietta branch, the eastern distributary of the Nile Delta, saying some fish farms are extended on both sides of the delta.

Poor recycling culture

Plastic waste remains one of the most pervasive and hazardous environmental pollutants. One of the remedies against this is recycling. A resolution adopted by the United Nations Environment Assembly on March 2nd, 2022, recognizes the significant contribution made by workers in informal and cooperative settings to the collecting, sorting, and recycling of plastics in many countries. 

However, plastic recycling remains low in countries within the Nile Basin. Reasons include lack of technology to recycle plastic as well as their limited value as recycled products.  

One of the plastic entrepreneurs displays recycled plastic products during a campaign event for the Flipflopi plastic pollution advocacy group in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Credit: Megan S. Lee

2021 study by the GKMA PET Plastic Recycling Partnership found that about 79 percent of all plastic waste generated in Uganda is dumped into landfills or the environment, 12 percent is incinerated, and only 9 percent is recycled. 

The same report indicates that almost 10 tons of plastic waste are uncollected annually in Uganda, resulting in 11 percent of this flowing directly into water bodies. 

The maximum municipal solid waste collection rate in Uganda is 40 percent.

In Kenya, the report supported by GIZ indicates that 7 percent of the generated plastic waste is recycled, with the recycling sector largely informal in nature.

Juba city generates approximately 950 tonnes of waste daily, and no recycling market exists. Most of the streets in Juba are unpaved and inaccessible due to narrow and muddy streets. Approximately 95 percent of Juba’s residential houses are excluded from waste collection services. 

Rubbish at custom market, Juba, South Sudan

The only recycling plant in South Sudan shut down in 2016. It had been operated by the South Sudan Brewery Company.

In Tanzania, some private individuals have initiated efforts to manage plastics. Last year, a Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) Recycle Company (T) Ltd (PETCO) was launched in Dar es Salaam. It is now enhancing plastic collection, recycling and reuse in the city. 

Bahir Dar city youth working voluntarily to clear plastic pollution in the side of Blue Nile River, Ethiopia: Amhara Multimedia Production

In Ethiopia, dumpsite pickers are collecting recyclables and reusable materials at landfills and selling them to intermediaries or recycling companies, the GIZ report noted.

Today, many young people are involved in collecting solid waste – including plastics. Ato Zelalem Getahun, the Bahir Dar city Sanitation Manager, however observes that though garbage collection capacity has increased, waste generation remains high and this calls for more efforts. 

The Amhara National Regional Government’s Tana Lake and Other Water Bodies Conservation and Development Agency General manager Dr. Ayalew Wondie recommends a raft of measures to tackle plastic pollution. These recommendations include recycling, replacing plastic with paper and biodegradable products, and reducing the production and use of plastic products. 

No Shortage of Innovations in the Nile Basin

Andrew Ugalla, a 26-year-old teacher from Juba, South Sudan, constructs houses using plastics. He hopes to reduce the plastic pollution of rivers and build an entire school out of plastic.

According to Ugalla, since he started construction with plastic bottles, he has saved more than a million plastic bottles from being misused or dumped into the river. 

“I used to tell my students to bring two bottles a day as school fees until I accumulated enough plastics for construction,” he says. 

Andrew Ugalla filling empty plastic bottles before construction at Gumbo Internally Displaced Persons camp, South Sudan

He has so far constructed more than 10 buildings out of plastics ranging from houses, kitchens, school restrooms, and rest places for a school. 

Ugalla, who lives in Gumbo, a neighborhood that borders the Nile River, now believes he has reduced the waste and created employment for the vulnerable communities living on the outskirts of the river. 

He has also built about 10 houses for vulnerable people and trained 20 friends to carry on with his vision of building a school out of plastics.

A plastic-constructed house in Sherikat, South Sudan by Andrew Ugalla

Most Juba-based bottling companies do not recycle their plastics due to a lack of capacity. However, some street boys in Juba collect plastics from the streets and illegal dumpsites for sale or reuse for packaging, water, petrol, cooking oil, honey, liquid soap, and other liquid items. 

The GIZ report recommends a range of solutions for Nile Basin countries to deal with plastic pollution. Whereas some are emerging solutions, others involve benchmarking to best practices as well as improving law enforcement. 

“As evidenced in Kisumu, Kenya, establishing disposal facilities in hotspots can help reduce the amount of plastic waste leakage into the environment,” the report recommends.

Bahir Dar city youth working voluntarily to clear plastic pollution on the side of Lake Tana, Ethiopia. Credit: Amhara Multimedia Production
Youth in Bahir City working voluntarily to clear plastic pollution on the side of Lake Tana, Ethiopia. Credit: Amhara Multimedia Production

The report also notes that Ethiopia’s move to establish the continent’s first waste-to-energy facility in 2018 in Addis Ababa is a game changer. Since Bahir Dar is a potential hotspot, it adds that setting up appropriate waste disposal facilities to complement improved waste collection is a significant step in mitigating plastic pollution. 

The facility burns almost 85 percent of Addis Ababa’s fresh domestic waste to generate heat. This heat is then used to drive steam turbines that produce electricity that is supplied to power communities and businesses in the city. 

The facility burns almost 85 percent of Addis Ababa’s fresh domestic waste to generate heat. This heat is then used to drive steam turbines that produce electricity that is supplied to power communities and businesses in the city. 

“Modern infrastructure such as sanitary landfills must be constructed to mitigate waste leakage into the environment,” the report adds.

Also, the GIZ scoping study recommends integration of the informal sector in the management of plastic waste to prevent activities like open burning and waste leakage into the environment, “since the informal sector already utilizes a large portion of municipal solid waste in urban areas.”

What are Nations Doing?

So far, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania have fully enforced bans on the manufacture of single-use plastic and plastic carrier bags.

In Uganda, the National Environment Act (NEA) 2019 bans the importation, local manufacture, distribution and use of plastic carrier bags. The same law includes provisions on waste management responsibilities, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), prohibition of waste import and export, and management of plastics and plastic products. However, the implementation of this law remains a challenge. 

According to experts, governmental and private sectors have different points of view regarding the core problem of plastic waste. As reflected in the GIZ study, the Kampala government believes that plastic bags are the most detrimental product to the environment while exempting plastic packaging materials from any bans.

On the other hand, the report notes that the private sector believes that the challenge posed by plastic bags has already been responded to by recycling and that plastic packaging material is a larger problem.

However, all hope is not lost.

The National Environment (Waste Management) Regulations, passed in 2020, seek to operationalise the NEA by including provisions on solid waste management.

Unlike Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan lack any regulations related to the Polluter Pays Principle or EPR. 

Kenya and Rwanda have also invested heavily in policies and law enforcement in an effort to boost environmental stewardship in solid waste management.


In Kenya, the Environment Management and Coordination Act (EMCA), launched in 2021, defines the responsibility, role and tasks of authorities, producers, and the establishment of the Kenya Producer Responsibility Organisation (KEPRO). 

This organisation defines itself as an open collaborative partnership with all stakeholders in the produced material value chain with a commitment to building a transparent and impactful extended producer responsibility, making sure that producers collect and recycle all the plastic that they produce and put into the market.

It helps its corporate members use more recycled and renewable materials in their product designs, increase the reuse and repair of packaging before it needs recycling, and transition packaging materials to circular design.

The government of Kenya set a target in 2015 as part of its National Waste Management Strategy to achieve 80 percent waste recovery and recycling and 20 percent disposal of inert materials in a sanitary landfill by 2030. According to the GIZ report, in addition to specific legislations on solid waste management, the Kenyan government has also issued bans on domestic and commercial packaging (plastic carrier bags) and plastic bottles and straws in all areas.

Kenya’s August 2017 ban on single-use plastic carrier bags, among others, introduces a four-year prison sentence or a fine of $40,000 for culprits. 

One of the Nile Basin countries that is taking the plastic-free revolution by the horns is Rwanda. The country’s efforts to be plastic-free started in 2008 with a law banning the manufacture, import, use, and sale of polyethylene bags. Four years later, it created the Environment and Climate Change Fund as a cross-sector financing mechanism to achieve the development goal of environmentally-sustainable, climate-resilient, and green economic growth.

In 2019, Rwanda passed another law that began phasing out all single-use plastics.

According to the GIZ study, following the laws prohibiting plastic bags and single-use plastics production enacted in 2008 and 2019 respectively, there are currently no primary plastic bags produced in Rwanda. 

“Many companies are now involved in recycling plastics into new products such as trash bags, sheeting, agricultural tubing/polythene bags, pavers, tiles, silage bags, rubbish bags, sacks, plastic tubing, [and] chairs,” the report adds.

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Officials at the Very Nile organisation in Egypt pack plastic wastes collected from the Nile.

At a regional level, the East African Community Polythene Materials Control Bill of 2016 establishes a cross-country approach for the control and regulation of use, sale, manufacture and importation of and use of polythene materials and products within the East African Community (EAC).

Despite the laws and regulations in different countries, the NBI report observes that “the gap between policy and adequate action remains large due to political interference, corruption, lack of willingness, or poor governance. Enforcement is either lacking or weak with capacities of enforcement organizations being quite low.”

More to Do to Save the Nile from Plastics

On September 13th, 2022, Juba City Council Mayor Michael Ladu Allahjabu issued an order that barred people from littering and dumping on the roadside in South Sudan. The order was intended to stop the pollution of the environment.

However, Lojokudu says this adds to some orders that are issued by authorities but never implemented. He blames the city council for lack of seriousness on the increased plastic pollution in the river. 

In Ethiopia, a 2022 report by Aragaw Assefa, De-la-Torre Gabriel, & Teshager Alebel (2022) suggests it is necessary to implement good solid waste management plans and infrastructure where lake activities take place. Additionally, local authorities must promote and ensure sustainable tourism to maintain the ecosystems in Lake Tana. 

Brian Muhimbura, an environmental policy analyst at Uganda’s water and environment ministry, proposes a multifaceted approach to tackle plastics pollution. 

“First, we must sensitize the public on the dangers of plastics pollution to create an enlightened group of citizens who take responsibility and dispose off the garbage they generate in the right way, like using garbage collection centers, not drainage channels, rivers and lakes,” he elaborates. 

The second approach, according to Muhimbura, is to establish garbage collection points in all areas – including slums. 

“After this, there must be strict enforcement of proper garbage disposal to punish whoever is caught littering or dumping garbage in the non-designated places like drainage channels,” he notes.

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Products made from recycled plastic waste by Very Nile
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A hat by the Egyptian Very Nile recycling initiative

In Egypt, policies and interventions focus on raising public awareness about the impacts of plastic pollution on health and the environment through workshops and beach cleanups; turning to a circular economy, and focusing on the design phase, rather than trying to deal with waste at the end of a product’s life. 

The government is also developing technologies that allow more effective and efficient reprocessing of used plastics; and creating and using safer alternatives to traditional plastics.

The actual quantification of plastics pollution in the Nile remains a potential research topic. However, plastic pollution of the Nile and its tributaries is an issue of concern. 

Bahati Mayoma, a Tanzanian researcher, conducted the first surface-to-deepwater study of microplastics in Lake Victoria in 2021, while traveling aboard the Flipflopi. Credit: Megan S. Lee

Due to economic growth and rapid urbanization, urban centers will continue to be waste-generation hotspots. 

Appropriate waste management strategies and regulations must be developed to cope with the increasing burden on already weak infrastructures. 

There is also a need to promote capacity building of enforcement agencies to ensure effective implementation of enacted waste management laws, regulations, and strategies to save the Nile – the lifeline to millions.