Gin makers seek dialogue over ban on plastic bottles

The ban on use of plastic bottles to package alcoholic drinks that was announced by Rwanda Bureau of Standards last week could stifle growth of the industry if not revised, stakeholders have said.
A worker at Bralirwa supervises the production process. Standards body has directed brewers to start using glass bottles like these from May 1. John Mbanda
A worker at Bralirwa supervises the production process. Standards body has directed brewers to start using glass bottles like these from May 1. John Mbanda

The ban on use of plastic bottles to package alcoholic drinks that was announced by Rwanda Bureau of Standards last week could stifle growth of the industry if not revised, stakeholders have said.

The standards body gave gin brewers until April 30 to change from packaging gin in plastic bottles to glass bottles, contempt of which will be seen as an illegal act with culprits penalised.

However, the producers who spoke to The New Times said they were not consulted on the issue, adding that the time given by RBS (about one and a half months) to start using glass bottles is not enough and is ‘economically inconveniencing’. 

“The Rwanda Bureau of Standards should convene a meeting of all stakeholders so that we are able to come up with the best solution because banning plastic bottles could be counterproductive and hurt the economy,” they argued.

Simon Peter Ebitu, the quality assurance and production manager at Speranza Group Limited, makers of gin, mineral water and juice, said there is no empirical evidence that shows that plastic bottles contain polyethylene terephthalate (PT) which is a threat to human health and environment.

“Many studies have been conducted on plastic bottles, which found no traces of PT in plastic bottles. Besides, it’s the glass bottles that could be a threat to the environment as they are not easily recycled, especially in Rwanda,” Ebitu said.

RBS chief, Dr. Mark Cyubahiro Bagabe, however dismissed these claims, saying that there is sufficient evidence indicating that alcohol reacts to polyethylene terephthalate, resulting in carcinogenic toxin, which is dangerous to humans. 

“This ban will benefit them because they will now be able to use packaging materials that conform to international standards. Above all, safety for everybody should come as the first priority,” he said.

Irshad Mundockil, the managing director of Universal Manufacturers, the makers of Drop bottled water, said it’s going to be hard for already established businesses to change from plastic to glass bottling “because there are few companies that make glass bottles in the region”.

“Glass bottles are expensive (cost about Rwf150) and, since we don’t make glass bottles in Rwanda, the final consumers will suffer the backlash and our businesses will also suffer,” Mundockil said.  

Robert Bayigamba, the president of the Rwanda Association of Manufacturers, urged policy-makers to always consult the private sector before making decisions that affect them.

“We will engage the standards body to see how to resolve this matter,” Bayigamba said. 

Neighbouring countries such as Uganda still allow packing alcoholic drinks in plastic bottles. As a result, Gin dealers in Rwanda have been importing a high volume of plastics from outside sources.

According to a notice issued by the standards body last week, the decision to ban drinks in plastic bottles was informed by the fact that “continuous use of the plastic bottles contains a potentially carcinogenic element that is dangerous to humans”.

“Diethylhydroxylamine (DEHA) can be re-activated by prolonged exposure to heat and contact with alcohols and therefore poses a health risk,” the notice indicated.   

Chantal R. Atukunda, the RBS communications manager, said the two-month ultimatum the standards body gave Rwandan producers and importers was to enable them to deplete the plastic material formerly imported legally so that they do not lose their investments.

“The move will also guard against adulteration of gin that exposes genuine producers to unfair competition,” she said.

The alcohol content, whether imported or produced in Rwanda still has to be in compliance with Law No. 03/2012 of 15/02/2012 regulating Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Precursors.

 

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