Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), the affiliated agency of the ministry of environment, has urged people to stop using single use plastic items so as to avoid harmful effects it poses on environment and human health. The ban is supported by the law N° 17/2019 of 10/08/2019 relating to the prohibition of manufacturing, importation, use and sale of plastic carry bags and single-use plastic items. The law has listed the names of single use plastic items under the ban whose dealers have been given a three-month grace period to phase them out. The items include single-use plastic packaging materials for food and other products, plastic straws, plastic spoons and forks, plastic knives, plastic cups, dishes and balloons among others. Rationale behind the ban Most of plastic items end up in landfills, rivers, lakes, oceans, waterways, and the environment and they do not biodegrade. REMA says that the single-use plastic items pollute the environment such as blocking water channels and preventing water from penetrating into the soil, affects biodiversity in the water bodies (lakes, rivers etc); clogging water drainage systems and thus triggering flooding, causes air pollution when burnt and aesthetically displeasing when littered on the environment . The 2017 report on single-use plastics and marine environment by Seas at Risk, an independent non-governmental federation of national and international environmental organizations for the protection and restoration of the marine environment confirmed that many marine bio-diversities such as fish and birds die from consuming plastic items. According to REMA, the ban of single use plastic items have a significant positive impact on environment, economy and health in Rwanda. REMA says that the single-use plastic items pollute the environment such as blocking water channels and preventing water from penetrating into the soil, clogging water drainage systems and thus triggering flooding. The 2017 report on single-use plastics and marine environment by Seas at Risk, an independent non-governmental federation of national and international environmental organizations for the protection and restoration of the marine environment confirmed that many marine bio-diversities such as fish and birds die from consuming plastic items. According to REMA, the ban of single use plastic items have a significant impact on environment, economy and health in Rwanda. In Rwanda, single use plastics such as plastic carry bags have contributed to flooding and low agricultural productivity as a result of plastics preventing rain water penetration into the soil. Single-use plastic items are among key pollutants, affect biodiversity in the water bodies and are aesthetically displeasing when littered on the environment. / Internet photo Plastics have also been a source of air pollution with harmful gases when burnt. Exposure to toxic chemicals coming out of plastic can cause cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity and other health problems, according to REMA. By clogging sewers and providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes and pests, plastic bags can increase the transmission of vector-borne diseases like malaria according to 2018 UN Environment Report on Single-use plastics. There is evidence that the toxic chemicals added during the manufacture of plastic transfer to animal tissue, eventually entering the human food chain, it says. The report says that studies suggest that the total economic damage to the world’s marine ecosystem caused by plastics amounts to at least $13 billion every year. It says the world produces more than 400 million tons of plastics every year of which only 9 per cent is recycled. If current consumption patterns and waste management practices do not improve, by 2050 there will be about 12 billion tons of plastic litter in landfills and the natural environment, it shows. Phasing out approach According to the law N° 17/2019 of 10/08/2019, a person who manufactures plastic carry bags and single-use plastic items is liable to closure of the activity, dispossession of all those items and to an administrative fine of Rwf10 million. The importers, the law says, are liable to dispossession of those items and to an administrative fine equivalent to ten times of the value of those items. The wholesalers of the banned items are liable to an administrative fine of Rwf700, 000 and dispossession of those items. The retailer of plastic carry bags and single-use plastic items are liable to an administrative fine of Rwf300, 000 and dispossession of such items Any person who piles or disposes of plastic carry bag waste and other single-use plastic items on unauthorized public or private place is liable to an administrative fine of Rwf50, 000 and is ordered to remove such waste and repair damages caused by him or her. In case of recidivism of the acts, the administrative fine is doubled. If the acts referred to be committed by persons having exceptional authorization to use plastic carry bags and single-use plastic items or to treat waste, they are liable to an administrative fine of Rwf5 million and the authorization is also suspended or withdrawn. According to the law, the imported goods packaged in plastic material or single-use plastic items are subject to an environmental levy in accordance with relevant laws. Every manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer of plastic carry bags or single-use plastic items must put in place mechanisms to collect and segregate used plastic carry bags and single- use plastic items and hand them over to the recycling plants. Institutions responsible for inspection of manufacturing, importation and exportation, use or sale of plastic carry bags or single-use plastic items are Rwanda National Police, Institution in charge of Customs, Rwanda Investigation Bureau, Rwanda Environment Management Authority, Rwanda Standards Board, Rwanda Inspectorate, Competition and Consumer Protection Authority as well as administrative decentralized entities. Guidelines and alternatives Most of single use plastics used in the country were introduced to be used in place of other reusable materials that were already in use. For example single use plastic plates, knives or folks have their multiple uses alternatives on the market. Eng. Coletha U. Ruhamya, Director General of REMA says that the ban was first applied on single-use plastic items found to have alternatives while those without alternatives are given special authorization according to set up guidelines. “After the enactment of the law, people are urged to stop usage of such items as they have alternatives. For instance, it had reached a level whereby a person uses a plastic straw while drinking juice in a glass yet you can drink it without even using straw. Another example is Fanta drinks packed in plastic bottles yet we have been using glass bottles. People need to change mindset, she said. Dealers have been given three month grace period to empty such plastic items from their shops, since 23 September, 2019. Some businesses have already switched to environmental friendly products. For instance, Kigali Marriott Hotel says that, through its global plastics reduction initiative, it started phasing out single-use plastics since 2018. The global hotel brand says that instead of plastics, it has adopted the use of wooden stirrers and paper straws in addition to using soap dispensers and larger bottles as opposed to small toiletry bottles. However, Ruhamya said “In order to use those which are yet to get alternatives, the dealers and users must formally request it with an environment management plan for them.” She added that the existing factories in Rwanda manufacturing single-use plastic items have been granted two years from the date of publication of the law to have phased out production of such items. Meanwhile some of them are planning plastics recycling projects while REMA is attracting investors to produce the alternatives such as glass bottles. REMA has developed guidelines on procedures and conditions for eligibility to grant exception permission to manufacture, use, import or sell single-use plastic items or pack goods in single-use plastic items. The guidelines entered into force on 09 October, 2019 when they were signed by REMA. Recognizing that there are exceptional cases where prohibited items may be required, the law under its article 4 provides for the possibility to apply a special authorization in according with the issued guidelines. Who are the applicants? The applicant for the permission are manufacturers of goods which require plastic material for packaging, an importer or manufacturer of home compostable single use plastics and a user of single-use plastic items. Guidelines say that products such as food, drugs, and medical equipment that are seen to lose quality if they do not use plastic materials as packaging will be tolerated but the businesses have to sign an agreement with the ministry of environment for their management, including collecting and taking them to recycling plants. Application for use of single use plastic items is acceptable for items exclusively meant for medical use, agricultural use, waste collection and sanitation use, use in construction industry and others. “The applicant must justify that there is no other alternative to the single use plastic item for which the permission is sought,” reads part of the guidelines. Application related to plastic material for packaging purposes is eligible if the product is produced in Rwanda, if the product has no alternative as a packaging material on the local or international market and if lack of packaging material has a direct and negative impact on the quality of the product. The application file that has to be submitted to authority in charge of environmental management which is Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) must be comprised of application letter, a project brief explaining the purpose of the use of single use plastic item, a management plan that must indicate how the originating wastes shall be collected for recycling or disposal, responsible parties, timeframes and resources allocated to this activity. The application is also accompanied by a sample of the material, a note indicating anticipated quantities of materials to be used and frequency as well as a note on the origin of the materials and their technical specifications.