The government recently passed a law banning single-use plastics as a measure of safeguarding the environment.
The passing of the law indicated that government ruled out recycling as an option, despite the business community’s plea that recycling be maintained as the alternative to a complete ban.
Convenience, portability and comfort have become key value propositions as foods and beverage manufacturers engage in cut-throat competition for customers, and this has driven many companies to resort to single-use plastics in the past decade.
Every month tonnes of single-use plastics are disposed of, overwhelming the existing recycling mechanisms. The essence of the ban is justifiable for it shows a country responsible enough to even paying a certain cost for a greater good. However a few things need to be put into consideration first.
The ban is definitely going to hurt the private sector, especially the beverage and food manufacturers, but the effect will spread across other sectors, like the service industry, pharmaceutical industry, and beauty products manufacturers.
Manufactures are not happy with the two-year grace period to find alternatives to single use plastics, especially after some of them invested in plastic plants.
As a short-term alternative, Inyange industries, one of the affected manufacturers, has pledged to have a mechanism of collecting all its plastics by the time the two-year grace period elapses, as they come up with other technologies to replace single-use plastics.
Dangerous to the environment as they are, single- use plastics have become a big part of people’s daily lives, such that banning their manufacturing and dissemination at the industry level is not enough. The public needs to be sensitised about their dangers and alternatives.
It is not the first time Rwanda is taking such a drastic decision. It happened a decade and a half ago when it passed a similar law that banned the importation and use of plastic bags.
At the time it sounded radical and untenable, but with constant explanation of the rationale and effective enforcement it worked.
But much as it is prudent for the government to come up with such regulation when the effects of climate change are upon us, the government needs to invest in research and building capacity to enable innovating of alternative products to replace single-use plastics.
Studies into how businesses and consumers have coped since the ban, and how effective alternatives like paper bags or degradable plastics have been, and the effects to the economy, would be a prudent thing to do.
Lessons from these studies would inform the current ban on single-use plastics, and prepare the market for the changes to come, as opposed to enforcement without employment of conscience and science.