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3 years on after the ban of Single use plastics, is Rwanda on the right track?

By Kayitare Jean B.

In 2018 Rwanda passed a law banning the production and use of single-use plastics which was preceded by the government offering business owners two years to shift to other business models such as alternative or production for export purposes.

On 23rd September 2021 the deadline to abide with the directives ended.

Owners were required to stop selling single use plastics ranging from plastic straws, bottles, toothbrushes, among other banned items shifting to reusable or alternative environmental friendly materials and goods.

Rwanda banned the use of single‑use plastic items, in March 2020, although the import of some goods in single‑use plastic packaging was permitted then, but were subject to new levies.

Since then the country’s parliament passed the draft law on 12 June 2019, which covers items such as plastic bags, cups, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles, and most food packaging materials. Article 3 of the draft law reads: “The manufacturing, use, importation or sale of polythene bags and single‑use plastic items are prohibited.”

But, to date as you move around Kigali suburbs or countryside in almost all the districts you still see a lot of plastic waste in all the gutters, farms, river banks and even in the sewage systems to name a few.

Christine Muhongerwa, a business woman at Nyabugogo trading center near the Nyabugogo Bus Termibal says; “The problem is widespread around our trading center probably many people converge here from all over the country and meeting at one point. Most people from rural areas don’t even know whether the garbage cans exist they end up throwing all the plastic bottles in the Nyabugogo catchment area which washes them to Mpazi river at some point ending up connecting with Nyabarongo river. It is a serious problem.”

“Of all the cleaning we do around the city of Kigali most of the waste we get are plastic bottles mainly consisting of energy drink bottles. We sometimes wonder whether there are no recycling industries in Rwanda at all because it’s too much” says Vedaste Nkurunziza, Capital Cleaning Services Chief of Operations.

REMA reacts

The Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) says, according to the Law; “every manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer of plastic carry bags or single-use plastic items must put in place mechanisms to collect and segregate used plastic carry bags and single-use plastic items and hand them over to the recycling plants.”

While with regards to manufacturing of plastic carry bags and single-use plastic items a person who manufactures plastic carry bags and single-use plastic items is liable to closure of the activity, dispossession of those plastic carry bags and such items and to an administrative fine of ten million Rwandan francs (Frw10,000,000).”

“Plastics are a burden to the environment and have a negative impact on people’s health. It leads to land degradation, pollutes water and clog the water drainage system, leading to flooding,” says Juliet Kabera, Director General of REMA.

According to REMA roughly 6,000 tons of single-use plastic waste is collected for recycling in Rwanda every year.

The move follows a steady tightening of laws in the African continent. Kenya and Tanzania have both recently introduced tough laws against plastic bags and single‑use plastic.

Though no significant national research has been done to assess the impact of banning single use plastics, REMA said the move has bore fruits in terms of reduction of plastic bags in public places, sparked innovativeness in new alternative packaging materials and sprouting of six new packaging and recycling plants which have created jobs.

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