World Environment Day: Rwanda backs drive against plastic pollution

People sort plastic bottles at a dumping site. Nadege Imbabazi.

Rwanda will, today June 5, join the rest of the world to celebrate the annual World Environment Day (WED), an opportunity to discuss a pressing environmental concern.

This year’s focus is on addressing plastic pollution.

In Rwanda, the day will mark the end of the 2018 National Environment Week, a campaign that this year focused on raising awareness on dangers associated with plastic pollution with view to reduce the excessive use of single-use plastics.

WED in Rwanda will be marked with a wide-range of activities centred on this year’s theme: “Beat Plastic Pollution. If you can’t reuse it, refuse it”.

The day, according to a statement from the Ministry of Environment, will feature the launch of an awareness campaign on sorting plastic waste and collecting plastic bottles by installing collection bins in various locations.

It will also feature an exhibition on alternatives to plastic and materials made from recycled plastics to highlight innovations in the country’s recycling industry and awarding winners of a school environmental competition.

Speaking last week at the launch of the National Environment Week, Environment Minister Dr Vincent Biruta noted that, around the world, almost 450 million tons of plastic is produced every year.

“It’s especially troubling that 40 per cent of plastic produced is packaging, used just once and then discarded. The scale of the problem can perhaps best be seen in the number of plastic bottles we use: globally, nearly a million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute. Of this plastic waste, an estimated 13 million tons enter the world’s oceans each year.”

By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.

Most plastics, according to United National Environment Programme, are made from fossil fuels like crude oil, which contributes to climate change and estimates for the time it takes plastics to break down range from 450 years to never.

“It’s clear that plastic waste has become an environmental catastrophe we can no longer ignore. Since Rwanda introduced the law to prohibit the manufacture, importation, use and sale of polythene bags a decade ago, we have seen remarkable progress and we are pleased that other countries, especially our neighbours the region, are following suit.

Today, the challenge we face is no longer plastic bags alone, but all plastics, especially those used once and thrown away. These disposable plastics are known as ‘single use’ plastics.” Biruta added.

Biruta also said that the Ministry of Environment and partners are in the process of revising the plastics law to reduce single use plastics and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of plastic recycling in the country.

The ministry also announced that it will no longer use disposable plastics and has since installed water dispensers to replace bottles with glasses and cups in offices and meetings in bid to improve plastic recycling and reduce plastic waste.

“Single use plastics are damaging our rivers, wetlands, and farmlands. They also pose a risk to our health. Like all rubbish, plastic waste blocks drains and waterways. This increases the chances of flooding and provides breeding grounds for mosquitoes, raising the risk of malaria and other water borne diseases,” Biruta added.

The national celebrations for WED will be held at the Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre (IPRC)-Kigali in Kicukiro District.


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