The Government has granted a three-month grace period to importers and retailers of single-use plastic items to phase them out before starting to penalise them.
Vincent Biruta, the Minister for Environment, made the announcement during a news conference on Monday.
The items include single-use plastic packaging materials for food and other products, plastic straws, plastic spoons and forks, plastic knives, plastic cups and dishes, balloons among others.
However, the minister explained that single-use plastic bottles are not targeted in the crackdown.
The move is part of implementing the law relating to the prohibition of manufacturing, importation, use and sale of plastic carry bags and single-use plastic items.
The single-use plastic items are said to pollute the environment such as blocking water channels and preventing water from penetrating into the soil, thus triggering flooding.
The 2017 marine environment report confirmed that many marine biodiversities such as fish and birds die from consuming plastic items, Biruta said.
Globally, Birura says, research shows that 300 million tonnes of plastics are manufactured every year, including five billions of plastic bags and so many millions of plastic bottles while half of all plastics are single-use items.
Biruta said that products such as food, drugs, and medical equipment that are seen to lose quality if they do no use plastic materials as packaging will be tolerated but the businesses have to sign an agreement with the ministry for their management, including taking them to recycling plants.
“All the items that have been given a three-month deadline to be phased out from the stores have alternatives. For example, straws have alternatives, dishes, cups and spoons among all those on the list, have alternatives that are easy to get,” he said.
He noted that, in order to enforce the law, no single dealer is currently being given a licence to import those prohibited items. However, manufacturers have been given a two-year grace period. There are over three factories manufacturing single-use items like straws, he said.
“We had even previously told them to prepare for the changes. They can even now start producing alternatives to prohibited items. Some of them have already submitted their proposals to us on how they intend to switch to manufacturing required alternatives,’ he said.
The law, Biruta said, will impose Rwf10 million fine on the single-use plastic product manufacturers while the fine for importers will be ten times the items’ value and the retailers will be fined Rwf700,000.
While the items can even get alternatives locally, the minister added they are talking to investors to start local manufacturing plants for alternatives to single-use bottles for water, juice and oil.
Minister Biruta added that they will start working on subsidiary law imposing high taxes on products that are imported when they are packed in plastics.
“For example, if clothes, TV screens and others are imported in plastics, they will pay higher taxes. This is a way of discouraging plastics. The extra taxes will also help to incentivise recycling companies and waste collectors,” he said.