Enid Musimenta, looked up from the pile of rubbish she was sorting through as we approached.
Atop one bank of the Kireka landfill that straddles a stream, Musimenta said she had been working there for about two years. She sorts rubbish, more specifically, plastics, piling them into heaps before bagging them.
Here biggest heap is of the now ubiquitous mineral water bottles, a smaller one of jerry cans, basins and other harder plastics and an even smaller one of glass bottles.
“I work to fill a pickup. It takes me about a month,” she explains of the work that involves, tiptoeing through rubbish that contains everything from glass shards, tin cans and other sharp objects, in her weather beaten bathroom sandals.
She earns sh300 (US 7 cents) a kilo gram of rubbish collects and pockets about sh150,000 ($40) for her month’s work.
She is not alone. I counted six others women, men and children scurrying around the hips of rubbish in the late morning heat.
Later I saw two men pushing a bicycle loaded with sacks of plastic, heading for a nearby delivery point.
Plastics are convenient packaging material because of their lightweight, they are inexpensive and are adaptable.
"As a result their use in Uganda, where most packaging was old newspapers barely 20 years ago, has grown exponentially. Meanwhile we have invested little to no money disposing of plastics. They clog our public drain systems, degrade our soils and kill livestock...
The convergence of private initiative and a need to conserve the environment may help turn back the plastic tide.
A few kilometres away from Musimenta’s work station is the Plastic Recycling Industry (PRI) plant in Kinawataka in the eastern side of Kampala.
The plant, with up to 30 tons of waste plastic piled above head level in the yard, is clearly overwhelmed by the material it collects everyday, brought in by private companies and community based organisations.
"We process about 20 tons of plastic daily," plant manager James Ongwech said on a tour of the facility, a subsidiary of Coca Cola Beverages Africa (CCBA).
“Our aim to process at least 100 percent of the plastic we (CCBA) generate. So far we have just managed 30 percent,”
CCBA the bottlers of Coca Cola products and Rwenzori Mineral Water estimate that through their operations they generate about 800 tons a month.
Inside the factory the sorted bottles are washed and then shredded into plastic flakes which are sold to local manufacturers or exported.
"Last year eight companies that are involved in exporting plastic flakes to China and Europe showed receipts of $4m...
But CCBA which through collaborations with local governments and community based organisations thinks if it can expand operations they may go into recycling the plastic into utensils, furniture and other household and industrial items.
What is potentially a lucrative sideline for CCBA pales in comparison to the benefits that would came with or the disaster that would be averted with a reversal in plastic pollution trend that threatens to bury the city.
“The real issues is how can we change our habits so that we dispose of our rubbish more efficiently. Can we for starters learn to separate our waste into organic and inorganic, so that it’s easier to process?” CCBA’s public affairs & communications director, Simon Kaheru wonders.
Industry sources estimate that at least 1,400 tons of waste is dumped at Kiteezi dumpsite, on the northern outskirts of Kampala. Of the waste that is ferried to Kiteezi everyday only two percent or about 30 tons is plastic. Or about 900 tons a month or 10,800 tons annually.
“There is great opportunity but we should also be concerned that if we do not get a grip of the challenge it could overwhelm us, destroy our beautiful environment and everybody will be the worse for it,” Kaheru said.