In the past five years, hundreds of people have been arrested and fined, sometimes even imprisoned for smuggling plastic bags, according to police statistics.
Undercover operations across the country have seen traders and smugglers have their plastic bags confiscated and destroyed, while they are made to pay hefty fines.
In March last year, a police operation intercepted a smuggler from Uganda and seized over 30,000 plastic bag circuits. He was forced to pay a fine of about Rwf300,000, under a law against plastics that has existed for ten years.
Under the law, factories found in possession of banned plastic bags are fined up to Rwf500,000 while owners risk jail terms of up to six months.
Whereas Rwanda’s law is effective, it is not the toughest in the region. In August 2017, Kenya introduced the world’s toughest law against plastics, which slaps a fine of $40,000 or imprisonment of up to four years for anyone who makes or uses plastic bags.
The difference between Rwanda and Kenya lies in implementation of the law, experts say.
Early this month, President Paul Kagame was invited to speak at the G7 outreach Session in Quebec about Rwanda’s successful implementation of laws that ban plastic bags.
“No country on earth is unaffected. And none can act alone. We have delayed to take action with the necessary urgency and scale, but we still have the time and ability to mitigate the damage,” said President Kagame.
A leading environment assessment expert, Alexis Dushimire, said countries in the East African Community lack the political will and determination to enforce a ban on plastic bags.
No way around
“Most of the countries in the region have laws against plastic bags, but enforcement only seems to be happening in Rwanda. Millions of francs have been collected through payment of fines by those trying to smuggle plastic bags into the country,” he told Rwanda Today.
“EAC can learn from what Rwanda did; try to educate the masses first about the importance of environment protection and then invest heavily in enforcement of environment protection laws. There is no other way round,” he added.
In June last year, the East African Legislative Assembly passed the Polythene Materials Control Bill 2017 to prohibit manufacturing, sale, importation and use of the materials.
Tanzania — which does not have a national law against plastic bags — said it would not implement it before weighing its impact on the business community.
In 2010, Uganda enacted a law that prohibits the use of plastic sacks and bags. But, weak enforcement has turned the country into one of the major distributors of smuggled plastic bags into Rwanda and Kenya.