Rwanda keen on cutting waste to zero

Officials tour E-waste recycling and dismantling plant in Bugesera. / File

Rwanda’s environment protection efforts have the potential to transform it from a linear to circular economy, characterised by minimal industrial waste as well as resource efficiency, officials have said.

They were speaking on Thursday at the national circular economy forum that brought together experts from the industry and environment sectors.

The gathering discussed strategies of advancing a circular economy also known as zero waste economy, which is characterised by extracting the most value possible from all kinds of resources. 

Such a system, experts say, minimises natural resource use, waste, emissions, and energy by closing energy and materials loops. 

Participants were tipped on how the principles of the circular economy including long-lasting product design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing refurbishing as well as recycling, can help to boost profits and make business more competitive. 

According to Dr Vincent Biruta, the Minister of Environment, Rwanda has been working to align its economic transformation with environmental protection and conservation.

“Too often, these are seen as conflicting objectives,” he said. “Fortunately, we now understand that sustainable economic growth is only possible with a strong environmental foundation.”

The Minister said that the country’s Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy is guiding Rwanda to become a developed, low carbon economy by 2050.

“Such a goal is only achievable if local industries produce in a way that is not only sustainable, but improves environmental outcomes for both people and the planet,” he said.

The Minister also stressed the need for industries and businesses to integrate the circular economy into their operations, rather than continue with the current ‘take, make, dispose’ model of consumption. 

“In the linear economy we extract resources, turn them into products and then throw them into landfill at the end of their life. In a circular economy, all of the resources are re-used either by having long-lasting products, repairing and sharing products, or recycling materials,” Biruta said.

He noted that the circular economy has the potential to create jobs, increase economic growth and increase living standards.

He added that an estimated 3.4 million people are already employed in circular economy jobs such as repair, waste recycling, and the rental and leasing sectors across the Europena Union (EU), as well as huge numbers across Africa, with great potential for expansion. 

“In many places around the world, including in Rwanda, the circular economy operates as an informal economy. Our task now is to scale up existing circular economy initiatives and develop new ones,” he said.

He cited initiatives such as the e-waste dismantling and recycling facility in Bugesera District, ride-sharing apps, construction materials made from recycled agriculture waste, plastic recycling, water reuse and refurbishing electronic equipment, among others. 

The Minister also spoke about how Rwanda’s ban on polythene packaging materials more than a decade ago and the recent decision to phase out single-use plastics are supporting the move to a circular economy.

“The ban on polythene packaging created new circular business opportunities and we hope the same will be true as we transition to alternatives to single-use plastics,” he said.

“We need to identify existing small scale, innovative initiatives and invest in them and connect local businesses to global leaders so they can access the best technology and the latest insights,” he added.

The Minister said the government recently established the Cleaner Production and Climate Innovation Centre, which is hosted under National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA).

The centre will be a one-stop centre of excellence which provides and promotes access to cutting edge and modern green technologies as well as business services for enhanced productivity, advancing the circular economy, and boosting climate resilience, competitiveness and environmental compliance. 

According to Olivier Kamana, Head of Applied Research at NIRDA, the circular economy should be integrated into all sectors and industries to boost productivity and profits.

“We have to promote a circular economy as it is imperative for businesses to survive and thrive. We are ready at NIRDA to support industries to promote the circular economy,” Kamana said.

Role of private sector

According to Coletha Ruhamya, Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority, the private sector stands to gain from being part of the fight against plastic pollution and promoting the circular economy.

“There are many opportunities for the private sector in the circular economy and we welcome the many companies who are already taking up their responsibility, fighting single-use plastics and making the shift to the circular economy,” she said.

“Investing in reusable alternatives like water dispensers, jugs and glasses is not only good for the environment but also cost effective,” she added.

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