Environmental authorities hope to considerably reduce plastic pollution two years after legislation banning single-use plastic items and plastic-carry bags was enacted.
This will come after the expiry of a grace period for local manufacturers and importers to venture into alternative packaging materials in addition to an ambitious plastic waste management project that was recently unveiled.
According to officials, single-use plastics and plastic-carry bags, the waste that clog water drainage systems, oceans and kill marine life, have contributed to flooding and low agricultural yield productivity in Rwanda.
This led to the total ban on polyethylene shopping bags in 2008 after law was enacted, prohibited the manufacturing, importation, use and sale of polyethylene bags.
On September 2, Rwanda joined Peru in proposing an international legally binding agreement to combat plastic waste.
The draft will be discussed at the upcoming United Nations (UN) Environment Assembly scheduled for February next year in Nairobi, Kenya.
Despite a successful ban of polythene bags, other types of plastic waste, such as single-use plastic items, have continued to pose significant environmental harm as they can take up to 1,000 years to decompose according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
As a result, a law that bans the importation, manufacturing, sale and use of single-use plastic products and plastic-carry bags was enacted in 2019 to complete the previous legislation and create a transitional period for local manufacturers to shift to alternative environment-friendly packaging materials.
The grace period expired on August 10, making the law fully operational. While some manufacturers have called for an extension in the transitional period to venture into alternative materials, director general of Rwanda Environment Management (REMA) Juliet Kabera said the deadline extension is not necessary.
NBG ltd, a firm that manufactures plastic straws had requested for extension of grace period.
The firm and other manufacturers wanted a three months’ extension period according to media reports.
However, Ms Kabera acknowledged there was a request from NBG ltd for deadline extension. During the grace period, the environmental authority gave special permission to manufacturers of goods that require plastic packaging, importers or manufacturers of home compostable single-use plastics and users of single-use plastic items in exceptional cases where prohibited items were required.
NBG ltd stated in May that the extension would help manufacturers increase revenue and service the loan taken by the firm.
The firm invested Rwf250 million to start the factory four years ago and is now seeking Rwf 600 million to invest in alternative items.
While authorities are pushing for the implementation of the ban on single-use plastics and plastic-carry bags, the lack of alternative materials and low recycling of plastic waste remain key challenges in sustaining the fight against plastic pollution.
The Ministry of Environment and REMA have advised local manufacturers to invest more in the manufacturing of alternative items.
“We have a ‘Green Fund’, but to date no business has applied for funds in relation to alternative products manufacturing.” Ms Kabera further said.
Single-use plastic items in the country include cups, straws, coffee stirrers, beverage bottles, and packaging materials. In 2019, three factories reported started shifting to alternative materials made out of paper and bamboo and others supported by the Ministry of Environment; however, some alternative products are not yet available on a large scale.
The key challenge to fight plastic pollution is mindset; people now understand the role of single-use plastics in pollution and what they now need are alternative materials, noted Mr Aphrodice Nshimiyimana, project officer for Global Initiative for Environment and Reconciliation, a local organization.
In its recent report on plastic pollution, GER stated: “The public has responded positively to the use of alternatives that includes bamboo straws, non-plastic takeaways food packaging at restaurants and re-usable water bottles.”
Meanwhile, a new plastic waste management project was announced in July as a partnership between the private sector and REMA. Called the "Sustainable management of Single Use Plastics" the project is expected to play a key role in the effort to deal with the plastic pollution projected to reach 12 billion tons by 2050 by the 2018 UNEP if consumption patterns and waste management practices do not improve.