Environment ministry leads drive against disposable water bottles

Minister Vincent Biruta and other ministry officials pose for a photo in their office. (Courtesy)

The Minister for Environment has announced that the institution will no longer use disposable plastics such as water bottles, cups and straws.

In a post on Twitter, the Minister for Environment, Dr Vincent Biruta, said that the institution will instead switch to sustainable and reusable alternatives such as glasses and refillable water dispensers.

Around the world, nearly a million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute and just less than a fifth of all plastic is recycled.

The decision comes ahead of the World Environment Day, due June 5, and also applies to the Ministry’s agencies, including the Rwanda Environment Management Authority, Rwanda Meteorology Agency, and Rwanda Green Fund.

The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is “Beat Plastic Pollution”.

“As we prepare to celebrate #WorldEnvironmentDay, @EnvironmentRw and agencies will no longer use single-use plastics such as PET bottles and straws. We can all make simple changes to #BeatPlasticPollution, reduce waste, and protect our health and environment,” a tweet from the ministry said.

Minister Biruta also tweeted: “I encourage everyone to join us to #BeatPlasticPollution! Disposable plastics like bottles, cups, straws, cutlery and plates are very dangerous for the environment. Sustainable alternatives exist!”

According to Biruta, simple human behavioral change can have a big impact on the environment.

“For example, if you go to the supermarket or any market to buy food, you can carry your own cloth bag. People need to start using reusable water bottles, say no to disposable straws, cutlery, plates and cups, and pack food in reusable containers. Let’s change the bad habit of using disposable plastic and invest in sustainable alternatives that are better for us and our environment,” Biruta said.

In a separate post, the ministry called on other institutions to follow suit.

“The Ministry of Environment encourages all institutions in #Rwanda to use less plastics, including by installing water dispensers and using glasses or cups rather than disposable bottles in meetings,” the tweet reads.

The New Times understands that the Ministry of Environment is set to write to other public institutions requesting them to reduce their reliance on single-use plastics. It is also understood that the Government is in the process of revising the current plastics law to reduce single use plastics and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of plastic recycling.

The new anti-plastic push comes ten years after the country banned plastic bags and is expected to reduce the amount of plastic pollution and waste being dumped in landfill sites.

The Director General of the Rwanda Environment Management Authority, Coletha Ruhamya, is upbeat about the possibility of phasing out disposable plastics and plastic waste in Rwanda: “It is time to say bye to plastic waste. We can live without plastics,” Ruhamya said.

The economic cost of disposable plastic was also highlighted by Juliet Kabera, the Director General of Environment and Climate Change in the Ministry of Environment.

“By using water dispensers and glasses instead of plastic bottles, we not only reduce waste but also save money. Often we don’t even finish the whole bottle of water. We’re wasting water and creating rubbish at the same time. It’s time we change this,” she said.

The move was commended by several environmetalists, including the head of the United Nations Environment Programme, Erik Solheim.

“Excellent @EnvironmentRw! On the road to #BeatPlasticPollution,” Solheim wrote on Twitter.

The UK Embassy in Rwanda also responded in a tweet saying: “Great initiative @EnvironmentRw, an example to follow. @DFID_UK office also phasing out plastic cups. @Commonwealth18 Blue Charter encourages us all to aim high to #BeatPlasticPollution.”

Around the world, efforts are underway to outlaw plastics that are designed for ‘single use’. For example, the European Commission has drafted legislation to ban straws, cutlery, plates and balloon sticks made of plastic.

In the United Kingdom, the Government announced plans to ban the sale of single-use plastics, including plastic straws and cotton swabs, as early as next year. The Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu will become the first country in the world to ban the use of plastic straws, along with plastic bags and polystyrene takeaway boxes, when a new law comes into effect in July. 

“Since we introduced the plastic bag ban ten years ago, Rwanda has made incredible progress in environmental protection. Let’s build on this achievement and strive to reduce other kinds of plastic waste as we develop our country,” Kabera said.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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