The right to a polythene-free environment

One of the things the Government of Rwanda is famous for is its strong stance on banning the use of polythene bags in the country. When you go to the Rwandan border, you will find custom officers checking the property of people entering the country and confiscating polythene bags.

Many studies have found polythene to be harmful to the environment. It is said to release harmful chemicals into the soil which can affect water sources and the ecosystem. The chemicals reportedly also lead to cancer, birth defects and other serious health issues. Additionally, polythene is responsible for the death of many animal species on an annual basis. It is deposited in water bodies and when ingested it is likely to block off an animal’s gut since it cannot be digested.

To protect Rwandan citizens and the environment from harm, Law N° 57/2008 of 10/09/2008 Relating to the Prohibition of Manufacturing, Importation, Use and Sale of Polythene Bags in Rwanda was established. Prior to that, the Ministerial Instruction on the use and Manufacture of Plastic Bags in Rwanda had been put in place.

Article 2 of the Law Relating to the Prohibition of Manufacturing, Importation, Use and Sale of Polythene Bags in Rwanda defines “a polythene bag” as “a synthetic industrial product with a low density composed of numerous chemical molecules ethane with a chemical formula; (CH2=CH2).” The polythene bag is used for packaging and carrying other products.

The general rule, according to article 3 of the Law Relating to the Prohibition of Manufacturing, Importation, Use and Sale of Polythene Bags in Rwanda is that no one is allowed to manufacture, use, import, or sell polythene bags in the country.

Article 4 of the abovementioned law provides for exceptions and necessary use whereby in exceptional circumstances, the use of polythene bags may be allowed.

These provisions are in article 1 of the Ministerial Instruction on the Use and Manufacture of Plastic Bags in Rwanda. The Ministerial Instruction says that it is acceptable to sell bags for medical and pharmaceutical purposes, bags for agricultural purposes, bags for garbage collection, biodegradable bags and non-toxic bags.

However, articles 2 and 5 of the Ministerial Instruction respectively prohibit the use of black polythene bags, and burning or disposing off of plastic bags in unauthorised areas and by unauthorised individuals or institutions.

Authorisation to manufacture, use, import and sell polythene bags is provided by Rwanda Environment Management Authority.   

Those who do not adhere to the Law Relating to the Prohibition of Manufacturing, Importation, Use and Sale of Polythene Bags in Rwanda and other related laws are liable to imprisonment terms not less than six months and/or and fines not less than Rwf5, 000. Repeat offenders receive double the punishment.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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