Lack of alternative material threatens Rwanda’s war on single-use plastics

Slightly over a year since the law prohibiting the manufacture, importation, use and sale of single-use plastic items in Rwanda was passed, The New Times has learnt that enforcing the law has been challenging due to some internal and external factors.

Gazetted in August 2019, the law bans single-use plastics such as plastic bags, cups, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles, and most food packaging materials.

 

In an exclusive interview, Jacques Nsengiyumva, the Acting Environmental Standards and Regulations Officer at Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), said that despite the two year grace period, there are not enough alternatives in terms of the availability of the items to replace single use plastics with.

 

“Our biggest challenge is that we are preaching the gospel but we don’t have sufficient solutions in terms of options. We are still talking to the private sector to invest in this area,” he said.

 

Nsengiyumva said that Rwanda still largely relies on imports, a large number of which comes in single-use plastic.

“These imports are needed by consumers here. As long as we are still dependant on foreign markets who are not on the same page with us in terms of our long term environmental plan, we will still have this challenge,” he said.

He says that this has affected the local adherence level from the local manufacturers in terms of respecting this new law.

Current status

Towards the end of 2019, users of single-use plastics were given a two year grace period and only existing factories are allowed to go into the production of single use plastics.

During this grace period, Nsengiyumva says that the plastics can be used especially by big manufacturers.

However, to do that, they must apply for special authorisation and they are required to show a genuine reason why they must use these plastics.

He explains that after the grace period elapses, an assessment will be done to determine the next steps.

Exceptions to the law

Nsengiyumva explained that some items such as medical supplies and salt among others don’t have alternative packaging material, meaning eliminating single-use plastics is not possible.

“The same applies to things like medical supplies like drips. We need to step in and regulate non beneficial plastics but it’s impossible to completely do away with them in the business community,” he said.

Nsengiyumva explained that for instance, salt can be packaged in single use plastics but the quantity and size of packaging must be within set guidelines.

“For instance, we cannot allow you pack 100 or 200 grams but we can allow 500 grams. We also require you to clearly indicate the name of the company on the packaging so that we can hold you accountable. That package cannot be used for anything else other than salt,” he said.

Appeal for more time

Anitha Urayeneza, the Managing Director of NBG Ltd that produces straws in Gasabo District, told The New Times that a 5-year grace period would have been better for manufacturers to pay back loans and find other alternatives.

Urayeneza says that she invested Rwf250 million to start the factory three years ago and has until now not yet paid back a loan she acquired.

“I have not yet started to really make tangible profits since I have not yet even finished paying back the bank loan. It requires me at least three years to finish paying back the loan. This means if straws are banned in wholesalers and retailers now, I will have no market in the two-year grace period that runs out in 2021,” she said.

Urayeneza added that if she gets at least five years, she could be able to switch from environment polluting straws to producing environmentally friendly straws, which require at least Rwf600 million because it would mean using new machines and technology to produce the straws.

The company, which employs 30 permanent workers who could lose jobs, produces at least 2.4 million straws per day.

She said that if the grace period is extended, they will set up mechanisms to collect the straws and supply them to recycling companies.

“Some companies can recycle them into pavers, sacks and they are already collecting them for recycling,” she said.

She emphasised that factories, wholesalers and retailers should be given more grace period to empty products from stores.

“You cannot tell a wholesaler to stop the business and then tell the factory to continue operating for two years. Where can we sell the products?” she said.

Jean-Paul Kamali, who sells single-use plastic items at Simba supermarket, Kimironko branch said: “I suggest they extend the deadline to empty the stores since most of us were not aware of the deadline. The other thing is that local manufacturers and importers should first be targeted to stop producing and supplying to us. If they stop, we will empty products we already have from our stores and then totally stop trading in these products,” he said.

A pack of 200 plastic straws at Simba Supermarket costs Rwf700, a pack of single-use plastic knives stands at Rwf1,800, while a pack of 25 single-use plastic plates goes for Rwf2,000.

There were also forks, cups and items.

Rwanda started its journey on banning plastics in 2008 when it banned the production and use of plastic bags.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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