The Government has embarked on a plan that will soon see the incineration of all the personal protective equipment (PPEs) collected from all over the country since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic last year. On April 28, 2020, the Rwanda Environmental Management Agency (REMA) issued specific guidelines aimed at ensuring that the PPEs, especially facemasks used in fighting the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic are treated with the utmost care so that the environment is protected. As part of the guidelines, REMA requests the masses not to throw masks around and not to mix them with the rest of the general home or office waste. The Director of Environmental Regulations and Pollution Control at REMA, Jacques Nsengiyumva, says that as soon the guidelines were issued, his institution embarked on a countrywide exercise to sensitise the masses on how best they can protect themselves and their environment. The plan He says that the institution also hired a local company; Company for Environment Protection and Development (COPED) to conduct a pilot assessment that involved collection of the PPEs, an exercise that he says will inform what the next steps will be. “The pilot worked in four sectors. One in the City of Kigali, one in a satellite district in Bugesera, one in a rural district in Kamonyi and another one in a secondary city in Rubavu. This pilot exercise is complete and we now have the masks collected in these areas and what now follows is the methodology that we will use to do the same countrywide,” he said. A health worker helps a Kigali resident sanitise his hands before he is tested for Covid-19 in July last year. The Government has embarked on a plan to incinerate all the personal protective equipment. / Photo: Dan Nsengiyumva Nsengiyumva explains that his office is working with community health workers on the grassroots level and using occupational health and safety measures to guide and protect the people hired for the exercise. “He/she must be wearing a mask and gloves and after the exercise, they must discard this gear,” he said. During the pilot exercise, he explained that at the household level, the homes in which the assessment was being done were given collection bags that they use to dump the PPEs. “We are going to validate the pilot report and immediately embark on a countrywide exercise to provide these bags to all the homes countrywide so that the collection of the PPEs is easier,” he said. Temporary measures In the meantime, Nsengiyumva encouraged local waste collection companies to continue ensuring that PPEs are not mixed with the rest of the waste. Speaking to The New Times in a telephone interview, the CEO of COPED, Paulin Buregeya said that as part of the pilot, 342 kilograms of facemasks have so far been collected. He explained that one kilo of masks is made up of about 200 masks. “We collected the PPEs and they are currently at the central collection facility at Kabuye where they are kept before incineration. We even separated them so that we can break down what exactly we collected from each area,” he said. What the UN says For more than a decade, Rwanda has taken a proactive approach and put environment and climate change at the heart of all the country’s policies, programmes and plans. The UN trade body, UNCTAD, estimated that global sales of facemasks would total some $166 billion in 2020, up from around $800 million in 2019. Aside from the environmental damage, the financial cost, in areas such as tourism and fisheries, is estimated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) at around $40 billion. UNEP is urging governments to treat the management of waste, including medical and hazardous waste, as an essential public service. The agency argues that the safe handling, and final disposal of this waste is a vital element in an effective emergency response.