Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) calls on the Rwandan community to actively contribute in the fight against the illegal use and sale of plastic bags in Rwanda and urges business owners to use alternative packaging materials on the market.
The call was made on 13th January 2017 when REMA in partnership with Rwanda National Police conducted an inspection of illegal use and sale of plastic bags across the country.
“We urge the Rwandan community to help us fight against the illegal use of plastic bags by informing us anytime they see a person using or selling them. We also advise the population not to accept that a business operator package their items in plastic bags because environmental-friendly packaging materials are available on the market, ”noted Eng. Coletha Ruhamya, REMA’s Director General.
The inspection was done in markets, shops, supermarkets, bakeries and butcheries, among other selling areas. The persons found using or selling plastic bags were fined and plastic bags confiscated as provided in law n°2008 of 10/09/2008 relating to the prohibition of manufacturing, importation, use and sale of plastic bags in Rwanda. The operation netted nearly 400 suspects with hundreds of kilogrammes of the banned polythene bags and raised over 10 million Frw in fines.
Fines from the plastic bags inspection were channeled through the Rwanda Green Fund (FONERWA) to support environmental protection projects.
According to the law, factories found using banned plastic bags are fined between 100,000 Frw and 500,000 Frw or owners face jail term of six to twelve months. An individual who sells the banned bags is fined between 10, 000 Frw and 300,000 Frw while buyers are fined between 5,000 Frw and 100,000 Frw. In any of these cases, the bags are confiscated and in case of recidivism, the penalty is doubled.
The joint operation follows one conducted on December 20 and 21 2016, in which Rwf4.5m fines were slapped on some businesses and 2,175 cartons of plastic bags impounded. Both countrywide operations were organized following reports that more banned plastic bags are infiltrating the Rwandan market.
Impact of plastic bags on Rwanda’s Environment
Before the ban, Rwandans used to package everything in plastic bags and plastic trashes were sprawled everywhere in the country, clogging our drainage systems hence increasing the risks of flooding during the rainy season.
Plastics were also scattered on agricultural land, hindering agricultural production, as the non-biodegradable materials would be laying down the soil, preventing water penetration into the soil and preventing plants to grow as they cannot grow past the plastic. Sometimes, plastic wastes were also burned, releasing toxic pollutants into the air and our water sources were also becoming highly polluted with plastic, choking to death many species of fish. In addition, due to the lightweight nature of plastic bags, they were being blown and littered throughout Rwanda which hindered our efforts for a clean country.
Positive impacts of the plastic bag ban
Now that Rwanda has banned plastic bags, the difference is clear! Rwanda (Urban and rural areas) is now clean and green and our drainage systems are no longer clogged by plastic wastes in rainy seasons. Our lakes/rivers are no longer polluted with plastics too and plastics are no longer scattered on agricultural land resulting in increased water penetration into the soil.
The ban has also been an opportunity for local businesses to invest in alternative solutions as after the ban many companies/cooperatives started manufacturing environmental-friendly bags made from locally available environmental-friendly materials; as alternatives to plastic bags. This provided employment to many Rwandans especially youth and women cooperatives. Industries which used to manufacture plastic bags also opted for recycling plastic bags collected at Rwanda’s border points and the airport; therefore, the ban did not hinder their business.
The ban has also contributed to the growth of the tourism sector as many tourists come in Rwanda to witness and learn from Rwanda’s Green initiatives.