When the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed on Ugandans, it came with cleaner air due to fewer fumes from vehicles. What about littering? There were fewer people collecting garbage, especially from low-earning communities.
Peter Arinitwe, who likes to call himself an artivist, saw that as an opportunity to spring his long-time skill into action in the community.
‘Plastik Talks’ was the project he embarked on and like the name suggests, its objective was to deal with plastic pollution to avert a catastrophic probable future of extinction of flora and fauna.
To put the message across platforms and different communities, Arinitwe brought on board professionals of different fields, vacists and unemployed youths, artistes for entertainment during outreaches, scientists for research, artists like himself to turn the message into visuals and media to spread the word.
Starting in his community, Arinitwe and the volunteers he had mobilised, would go around collecting plastics on designated days and teaching people why they should not litter the environment. The team also bought plastic bottles from those who collected them.
Arinaitwe and team rented a place as trash collection centre, pimped it up with artwork and made it a place where people could go to learn and exchange ideas.
The fence, supported by wood, is made with coloured bottles, so neat one would want to transfer the idea to their home. Plants in bigger plastic bags and cans, are part of the wall covered in incredible murals.
With a teaching background, Arinitwe believed if he went to schools to preach the plastic pollution gospel, he would achieve more for his purpose.
“We have hosted three schools so far to learn about proper usage and disposal of plastics. Schools send their best students to study about pollution, what we do as Plastik Talks, and these will be change agents,” he says.
Keeping plastic pollution deeply rooted in young minds will contribute to the generation of a plastic pollution-free future, thus a healthy environment, or so he believes.
“You cannot prevent the leaves of a plant from drying if the roots of the plant are dry or rotten,” says Arinitwe.
Arinitwe left the village at a tender age to live with his father and his family in the city.
The new home was called Gulf, a ghetto area in Kitintale, a Kampala suburb. This is where he would finish his primary level and the rest of his education.
As a boy, he was used to running through the green fields and fresh air of Kabale. But Arinitwe found himself in a place surrounded with big trenches, full of garbage and sewage. He would have to jump five of them every morning to and from school.
Whenever it rained, he says, people would dump their garbage into the trenches for rain to wash it away in order to save the money they would have to pay to garbage collectors. And when the floods came, they soiled every house in the way.
Would I have to live here for the rest of my life? Is there something we do about it? If I said anything, will they listen to this small boy I am? He recounts the questions he would consequently ask himself.
Talking to people did not yield much. Arinitwe knew if he wanted change, but he could not do it alone. And what would attract his agemates to join the cause? Money! The answer was in the hands of roadside tree and flower farmers, who used these plastic bags, especially sachets of milk to do so.
“Whenever our parents were out for work, I would lead my crew to pick every plastic we came across. We burnt some and sold others. The money I got would buy me a few scholastic materials and some pocket money to use at school,” he says.
Arinitwe’s father believed in giving the best education to his children as he considered this to be their inheritance. So he would have to stay in school as much as he could. That was a given. He was the eldest and a leader to his ‘business mates’. He had to set a great example and stay in school, no matter how challenging it got.
Because he lived in a ghetto, he would walk at least 30 minutes to school if he used a shortcut, which would be flooded when it rained and often made him miss school.
On those days, he at least had business to do. “Pick up plastic material and make money too.”
Arinitwe enrolled in higher education and opted for Art and Economics among other subjects. Art would let him dream through drawing and economics would help him in business. He was future oriented.
Arinitwe started doing school gigs such as making greeting cards with the calligraphy he had learnt in art and doing work for students in higher classes. He still collected plastics any chance he got even while a school. His friends would collect and keep their catch for him to take for sale, and he would get a cut after all is sold.
Arinitwe used his money to get himself the latest shoes, designer clothes and perfumes to fit in with the rest.
Arinitwe applied to study Art at Kyambogo University.
“My father paid my tuition but I had to cater for my other needs at university. I started working as I studied because there were bills to pay,” says Arinitwe.
“I taught art and craft for four years in different secondary schools as I studied, before I decided to go into fashion and design. I was also a model for different clothing agencies and fashion houses,” he says.
Arinitwe left the runway and started creating African designs with modern clothing. He would draw sketches and the tailors would do the rest. He later started making clothes out of trash and showcasing them as part of his campaign on plastic pollution.
Arinitwe dived into painting and making sculptures to drive the message home.
“Painting became my niche. People bought and related with my paintings whenever I took them to expos,” he says.
When Lake Victoria experienced a massive loss of Nile Perch, discussions were held from every country that shares the shores. One of the actions made was creating sculptures near the lake to ban plastics, one of the leading causes of water contamination.
As you approach Ggaba market, heading towards the side where fish is sold, a sculpture of a fish with its young one; the larger fish filled with plastics, raising the younger one not to choke on plastics, will catch your attention.
The message in that sculpture is very clear. Plastics are killing the fish. A message to the community about the dangers of plastic pollution.
Arinitwe’s paintings are tailored towards creating awareness of plastic pollution. His art pieces have taken him to places he never thought he would go to, including Rwanda and Europe, which have contained plastic pollution. He has made other sculptures like giraffes, lobster frogs among others in different countries, all covering plastic pollution.