Uganda bans plastic bags, promotes banana leaves

KAMPALA, July 1 (Reuters) - A ban on plastic bags in Uganda took effect on Sunday to cut down the stinking piles of rubbish that litter its dusty capital and other urban areas, breeding germs and poisoning water supplies.

Officials want Ugandans to instead use banana leaves, the traditional material for carrying goods.

Uganda's ban followed a similar one on Tanzania's Zanzibar islands last year. There have also been moves in both Kenya and mainland Tanzania to raise duties on plastic bags, which dot Africa's urban and rural landscapes with depressing regularity.

Ugandan Finance Minister Ezra Suruma announced the ban on "buveera" -- polythene bags in the local Luganda dialect -- during his budget speech last month in the east African nation.

"Due to serious environmental concerns and the difficulties in the disposal of polythene bags and plastic containers, action was required in order to encourage producers and consumers to minimise (their use)," he said.

Environmentalists say discarded bags, which pile up on roadsides and unused land, spread disease and hurt wildlife.

In Uganda, the only exception is the scavenging Marabou storks who thrive on the bags.

Rubbish often ends up in wetlands surrounding Lake Victoria, where it pollutes water supplies. Sometimes it is burnt, releasing toxic chemicals into the air.

Most of Uganda's cities lack the resources to properly dispose of more than 10 percent of the trash they produce.

Under the new rules, companies are forbidden from producing, importing or using plastic bags. But it is unlikely individuals will be punished for using existing ones.