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Burundi suspends plastic bottles certification as lake’s pollution tops up

Three years after the government passed a law to ban plastic bottles in the country, the latter continue to be disseminated threatening Lake Tanganyika biodiversity while its exporters face six months ban effective on the 31st of August 2021.

Plastics bottles transported by floods through canals. PhotoFile

The Burundi Bureau of Standards and Quality (BBN) suspended license applications to alcohol exporters for BBN endorsement and permit to be delivered on Burundi soil as they violate export and import norms.

“The ethanol content of alcoholic products above 16, 5% without being supplied in a 200ml glass bottle is forbidden to be sold”, said Isidora Ntakiyiruta, BBN Director General. 

She added that alcoholic beverages with an alkaline content of more than 16.5%, which are manufactured and packaged in plastic bottles, will be certified and licensed by BBN only after the package has been changed.

Despite banning plastic bags in 2018, bottle dumping still occurs in the wild. Now the move comes after the plastic bottles surge in Bujumbura streets end up in rivers crossing the economic capital Bujumbura and finally in Lake Tanganyika.

However, plastic bottles are deposited awkwardly as even public bins are often ignored. Yet, some people collect them to sell them to traders who reuse or recycle them for commercial purposes.

“I sell kinju bottles for a living. I move from house to house, office to office asking if there are one or bottles left in their dustbins. So, I take them to Ruvumera where I can sell up to BIF 100 one used-bottle”, says Jean Claude Niyonkuru, a collector of plastic bottles in Buyenzi.

Some people collect water, juice, and alcohol plastic bottles to ship them to Rumonge (South West), Cibitoke (North West), and Gitega (Centre of Burundi) as they are reused to pack palm oil, medicine, and honey.

In a bid to decrease plastic bags and related items, Burundi adopted, in 2018, a law banning any affairs connected to plastic usage.

“The production, import, storage, sale, and use of all bags and other plastic packaging is prohibited”, read the statement apart. 

The next year, data were promising, plastic imports fell up to 99% according to 2019 data released by the ministry of agriculture, environment, and livestock and Burundi Tax Authority (OBR). 

Imports of plastic bags and sacks have dropped from 179,967,500 kg to 82,282 kg, a decrease of 99.95% ion the first quarterof the same year. As for imports of plastic raw material, there is a difference of 2,443,891 to 884,484 kg, a decrease of 63.8% 

On the other side, plastic bottles have dropped from 1,644,057 to 628,884 kgs, which is a 38.25% decrease. 

However, according to experts, the tendency was promising but the government lacked follow up measures as today only little have been done since only plastic bags have been eradicated on the market but not bottles as people continue to use them putting in danger their health.  

“One drawback to reusing plastic bottles is that the plastic materials in the bottle eventually dissolve in water. There is also a rapid increase in microbial growth in reused water bottles”, said Vincent Mpurumbiyimana, an environmental expert.

On theLake Tanganyika’s shoreline, plastics bottles amassed together by waves. PhotoFile

According to studies, a major problem with plastic materials is that they contain more or less harmful substances that can migrate into food. These substances can migrate into the food. 

This migration is important under the effect of heat and worsens with time. This is why it is recommended to keep products packed in plastic bags in a cool place and to consume them after purchase to limit the contact time of the food with the plastic bottle.

Tanganyika Lake has been the huge deposit of plastic wastages not recycled_ the unused or reused for too long_ that end up in the lake’s waters, pollute them and affect the aquatic ecosystems.

Four countries depend on it in socio-economic activities including Burundi(8%), Democratic Republic of Congo (45%), Tanzania (41%), and Zambia (6%)

The lake (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. 

To date, plastic dumps or baths wash ashore of the lake along with rivers. When it rains, all plastic items are gathered by floods and line up till the lake’ s basin.

So far, according to research, once deposited in the lake plastic takes between 400 to 1,000 years to composite which after all harms the environment, birds, and wildlife. 

Scientists report that floating around in the water column, plastic trash is found in the guts of more than 90% of the world’s lakes’ birds, in the stomachs of more than half of the aquatic animals such as fish.  

“It has been estimated that plastic marine debris adversely affects at least 267 species globally, including 86% of sea turtles, 44% of seabirds, and 43% of marine mammals”, Impacts of Mismanaged Trash. 

The effects upon wildlife that come from eating, or becoming entangled in, plastic debris have been reported more widely and more often than ever before, leading to public outcry and protests.

Burundi’s ecologists and environmentalists warned over the lack of studies and effective measures to protect the lake and punish companies that breach the plastic rules. 

For example, as stated in the 2018 decree banning plastic importation, in its seventh article, Plastic waste including plastic bottles and flasks is returned to the suppliers for sticking, recycling or recovery.

However, they are still banking rivers and beaches of Lake Tanganyika. 

Plastics are one of the main products of fracking causing high pressure in underground rock formations leading to water variations. They have been washing the beaches of the Lake since 2019 when the water reached 776m, the highest ever recorded.

Nearby people were displaced, over 8,000 families were left without shelter among which 6,000 children. Bujumbura (Burundi) and Kalemie (democratic Republic of Congo) were the most hit.

As of today, no statistics are available on tonnes of plastics transported in the lake from Rumonge province to Bujumbura economic capital heading to Kalemie port in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Therein, said environmentalists, plastics debris have caused harm to the aquatic and terrestrial environment, as well as no biodegradable and biodegradable industries wastages, sink or ashore along the Lake Tanganyika as in-dwelling ecosystems left endangered.

Espoir Iradukunda
Espoir Iradukunda
Data Investigative Journalist


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