Rwanda traders count losses after ban on single-use plastics

Wednesday March 11 2020

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Kenya is the leading manufacturer of the single-use plastics used in Rwanda and other regional countries. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA  

MOSES K. GAHIGI
By MOSES K. GAHIGI
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The owner of Kamwe foods Kabera Ramathan has been packaging his roasted groundnuts and soybeans in plastic bags to supply to various supermarkets in Kigali.

However, his business could grind to a halt as he can’t find affordable alternatives to single-use plastics, which were banned in Rwanda in 2019.

Solange Murekezi, the CEO of Quxdelices, said using glass tins to package her honey is too expensive and would make her products uncompetitive compared with imported honey.

The Rwanda government is enforcing a ban on the importation and use of single-use plastics such as plastic plates, cups, cutlery, single-use containers, plastic packaging materials and straws among others.

Small and medium-sized manufacturers of packaged juices, nuts, potato crisps, beauty products, honey and other products are in a bind because they can’t find alternatives to replace plastics.

This will be a major setback to the “Made in Rwanda” agenda, especially as more local products enter the market.

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Affected business owners told The EastAfrican that the government’s move to ban single-use plastics in a bid to protect the environment should have first factored alternatives.

“The government should have first established recycling systems,” said Ms Murekezi.
Robert Bapfakurera, the Private Sector Federation (PSF) chairman said they are working with the government on recycling.

The government instituted a penalty of Rwf10million ($10,000) to any one who manufactures or imports plastic bags and single-use plastic items.

Although single-use plastic bottles used by large beverage makers are also banned, they have been given a special exception because there are no current alternatives in the market to replace them.

The government is also working on incentives for collection of single-use plastic waste. It will work closely with beverage makers like Inyange Industries, Bralirwa and others to come up with reliable waste collection and recycling systems.

Other exempted single-use plastics are coffee cup covers, ear buds, plastic toothbrushes and plastic advertisements.

Manufacturers of single-use plastics were given two years to transition.

Goods imported in plastic material or single-use plastic items are subject to an environmental levy.

Deo Niyomugabo who imports up to 70 per cent of single-use plastics mostly from Kenya said the ban is causing losses and a scarcity of other products that were packaged in single-use plastics.

Coletha Ruhamya, the Director-General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), said recycling couldn’t counter the speed at which plastics accumulate.
“We currently have five recycling plants, but they can’t recycle all the plastics.”

“As much as we encourage and support recycling, we have to do it in tandem with a reduction of the single-use plastic waste,” she added.

Two years after banning manufacturing and use of plastic bags—and instituting a hefty $38,000 and a four-year prison penalty—Kenya announced a ban on single-use plastics around its protected areas like National parks, beaches, forests and conservation areas, a ban expected to take effect in June.

Kenya is the leading manufacturer of the single-use plastics used in Rwanda and other regional countries.

Uganda, Burundi and South Sudan are yet to regulate or ban single-use plastics.

Last year Tanzania banned the manufacture, importation and use of plastic bags, but is yet to institute laws on single-use plastics.

With single-use plastics forming 40 per cent of plastics manufactured globally, scientists and researchers continue to sound the alarm over the devastating effects they continue to pose.

It has been projected that if the current trend continues, the dumping of these plastics will see oceans holding more litter than fish by 2050, with 99 per cent of seabirds ingesting the plastic.

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