Fresh headache to watchdog as medical waste and single use plastics pile in Kigali

Tuesday April 05 2022

Uncollected medical waste. PHOTO | FILE

By Ange Iliza

The Covid-19 pandemic has interrupted the country's efforts to ban single-use plastic and accumulation of medical waste. The recently published environment and outlook report raised concerns over Rwanda’s limited waste management capacity despite heavy investment by the government.

According to the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) report, the Covid19 guidelines for the use and production of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, masks and disinfectant bottles, increased over the past two years.

The containment measures also interrupted the spread of the virus, resulted in interruptions in waste management work, and delayed the establishment of waste collection centers across the country.

The report raises concerns that the increased medical waste is not only harmful to the environment as they contain plastic, but to public health since they are scattered in gutters and streets in neighbourhoods. The issue might exacerbate current challenges in the waste management realm.

Rwanda’s waste collection rate currently stands at 49 percent and only 10.3 percent of solid waste is disposed via private dustbins or publicly managed dumps. Medical waste made up less than 1 percent of the waste generated in Kigali before Covid-19 before it increased to 2 percent. Organic waste accounts for 74 percent of waste generated.

The report warned that the increase in waste such as face masks pose long-term harm to health, including respiratory diseases and non-communicable diseases.


Waste collection

In 2021, COPED, a waste collection company partnered with Rwanda Environment Management Authority to collect all used PPEs in Kigali as a pilot project. COPED collected 3.5 tonnes of mainly face masks and gloves from households and streets in Kigali.

Paulin Buregeya who runs the company, says the pilot ended in December, but much more should be done about PPE waste.

“We collected exclusively PPE waste in Kigali. It was a pilot project so there were challenges including residents who did not co-operate. We continued to collect waste as usual, but most of it is not sorted. PPEs such as face masks are mixed with other waste, making recycling and decomposition difficult,” Mr. Buregeya said.