How Ugandans Are Saving The Environment One Banana Stem At A Time

Photo credit: Mahdis Mousavi

We’ve all heard the proverbial phrase — when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That’s what some enterprising Ugandans are doing. Well – they’re not using lemons. They’re using banana fibers to make paper bags, but you get my analogy.

Using banana fibers to make paper bags helps Uganda address three critical issues.

Ban on Plastic Bags

In June 2018, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni banned polythene, or plastic bags. The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) estimates that 39,600 tons of polluting waste is released into the environment in Uganda. According to the 2018 United Nations Environmental Programme report, SINGLE-USE PLASTICS: A Roadmap for Sustainability, this waste ends up in dumps, landfills, and the environment.

Polythene bags, commonly known as kaveera, cause flooding, create breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and kill soil. Non-biodegradable waste takes up to 400 years to decompose. (source)

Sadly, less than nine percent of nine billion tons of plastic worldwide is recycled.

Alleviate Banana Stem Waste

Banana plants are abundant in Uganda. Bananas fruit once. After banana harvest, farmers must cut the parent stems for new, “suckers”(smaller offshoots) to grow. The banana stems are discarded and left to rot.

Once the banana stems are collected, oftentimes free of charge because they’re considered waste product to the banana farmer, the process of making banana paper begins.

The strong banana fibers are extracted from the banana stem. It’s cut, cooked, blended, turned into a pulp, put into a solution, drained on screens, then hung on racks to dry for a minimum of six hours to turn into hard paper. Once dried, the banana paper is smoothed in a roller to increase the strength of the paper. (source)

Banana bags are vegan, eco-friendly, sustainable, plant-based, cruelty-free, not easily torn, and biodegradable. Due to its uniqueness, the market is growing. (source)

Additionally, in rural areas, banana paper helps curb deforestation and poaching. It takes one year to grow banana tree paper. Conventional tree paper takes 30 years.

Help Ease Unemployment

Manufacturing banana paper helps unemployed Ugandans by creating jobs, therefore creating income. (source)

Vocational centers and independent workshops teach underprivileged people and unemployed youth how to make banana bags, jewelry, mats, vases, utensils, cloth, woven materials, books, and greeting cards for Canada and the United States.

Previously, a large portion of banana bags manufactured in Uganda was exported to Rwanda, which also has a total ban on polythene bags. Now that the banana bags are heavily used in Uganda, they can no longer export to Rwanda.