Rwanda’s plastic dealers face uncertain future

Most single-use items such as plastic cutlery have multiple alternatives on the market, says an official

James Tasamba   | 12.07.2019
Rwanda’s plastic dealers face uncertain future

KIGALI, Rwanda

Factories making single-use plastics in Rwanda and other dealers are living in a period of uncertainty as a draft law banning the products in the country is in the pipeline.

Rwanda’s parliament passed a draft law banning the manufacture, imports, use and sale of single-use plastic items in the country’s latest step to protect the environment.

The vote by lawmakers on June 12 paved the way for the law to come into force once President Paul Kagame assents to it and it is published in the national gazette.

Once it comes into force, dealers of single-use plastic items would have a grace period of about three months to phase out their stocks.

The law targets plastic bags, cups, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles, and most food packaging materials that pose a threat to the environment.

The legislation is in keeping with a 2008 law that banned imports of polythene bags, which has been successful in driving down their use in Rwanda due to stipulated heavy penalties.

“As manufacturers, we are trying to see if we can get other alternatives. But it is expensive. Basically, we need support from the government,” William Kamugisha, one of the shareholders of Iwacu Investments, a company making drinking straws in the capital, Kigali, told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday.

The 2008 law relating to the prohibition of manufacturing, importation, use and sale of polythene bags in Rwanda is limited to the prohibition of polythene bags and does not cover other types of plastics which also have harmful effects on the environment, Rwandan Minister of Environment Vincent Biruta said while defending the draft law in parliament.

'Very positive step'

Coletha Ruhamya, director general of the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), described the passing of the draft law by parliament as a "very positive step in the right direction".

“We have mainly been dealing with plastic bags. But other single-use plastics are also as bad or even worse than plastic bags,” Ruhamya told Anadolu Agency.

“At the global level, countries are discussing how to also ban single-use plastics. Rwanda must be at the forefront.”

According to officials, the draft law was motivated by the desire to check the increasing habit of unnecessary consumption and disposal of single-use plastic items which affect the environment.

Around three factories make single-use plastic items in the east African country.

Currently, there is no accurate data on the quantities of single-use plastics generated in Rwanda. Most are imported.

Ruhamya said the most important issue is not about the quantity of products produced but more of avoiding whatever quantities due to their negative impacts on the environment.

This should not be debatable, she said.

More green jobs

The government plans to conduct a study to obtain data that will support monitoring and evaluation of the ban’s impact once it comes into force and other initiatives such as recycling investment, according to REMA.

Asked about planned alternatives, Ruhamya argued that most of the single-use items such as plastic cutlery normally provided with takeaway food have multiple alternatives on the market.

“What is required is to go back to our abandoned original practices as they are more environmentally friendly. It is time to pay the cost to the environment,” she said.

Kamugisha said on his company’s part that they don’t see an alternative for their business at the moment.

The option is paper straws which is expensive in terms of production costs and that would raise the issue of affordability for the consumers, he said.

Responding to concerns of job losses, Ruhamya said jobs will not be created at the expense of the environment.

The government sees it as an opportunity to create more green jobs, she said.

Collective public awareness

Ruhamya called for collective public awareness on the dangers of plastics, stressing that the law intends to protect people’s lives, businesses and the environment.

“What is required is only a mindset change; the rest will be easy. To be easily achieved, there is a need to join the journey so that all of us walk together for a plastic pollution-free planet,” she said, noting there is no alternative to our planet.

The new legislation stipulates a fine of 10 million Rwandan Francs (about $10,984) for anyone who manufactures polythene bags and single-use plastic items besides the closure of the facility, while an importer faces a fine equivalent to 10 times the value of the materials.

“The future of our business is uncertain. But we have to follow the rules. It’s up to us to adapt. Otherwise, we don’t have any other choice,” said a single-use plastics importer in Kigali who only gave his name as Jerome.

Chris Muhangi, a conservationist, said the public can help counter climate change by eliminating plastic waste, and controlling the supply side is a good move.

Kenya and Rwanda are the only East African Community member states that have so far banned plastic carrier bags.

Kenya’s stringent law against disposable plastic bags, enacted in 2017, punishes anyone making, selling or importing plastic bags with up to four years in prison or up to $40,000 in fines.

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