Government is considering revising the current law on plastic products with the goal of banning single-use plastic materials such as straws, disposable cutleries among others, Environment minister Dr Vincent Biruta has said.
Speaking in Kigali at the launch the National Environment Week on Tuesday, Biruta said that since Rwanda prohibited the manufacture, importation, use and sale of polythene bags over a decade ago “remarkable” environmental benefits have been registered.
However, he said, the continued use of some “avoidable plastic products” remains a threat to the fight against environmental degradation.
“Today, the challenge we face is no longer polythene bags alone, but all plastics, especially those used once and thrown away. We are in the process of revising the plastics law to reduce single use plastics and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of plastic recycling in the country,” Biruta noted.
A fortnight ago, the Ministry of Environment and its affiliated agencies announced that they will no longer be using disposable plastics, including the traditional single-use water bottles.
The institutions have since installed water dispensers and replaced bottles with glasses and cups in offices and during meetings.
A few other public institutions such as the Ministry of Justice have since joined this effort and taken the “Beat Plastic Pollution” pledge and Biruta hopes others will follow suit soon.
To demonstrate how far the ministry will go to drive this campaign forward, there was not a single plastic bottle at the event to launch the Environment Week.
According to the minister, this was a statement of intent, to prove that it is possible to completely stop the use of disposable plastics.
Such small changes in behaviour can have a big impact, he said.
The minister observed that ending plastic waste will protect the health of people and the environment, while it will also save money and reduce the burden on the country’s waste management system.
While Biruta said the Government had not banned the plastic bottles yet he underlined that it would be ideal for Rwandans to do away with single use plastics such as the bottles in question and resort to more friends products like water dispensers.
“Single use plastics are damaging our rivers, wetlands, and farmlands. They also pose a threat to our health. Like all rubbish, plastic waste blocks drains and waterways,” he said.
Some of the biggest sources of plastic waste include bottles, straws, cups, plates and cutlery – the kind you often see at meetings and other events such as weddings.
According to United National Environment Program (UNEP), almost 450 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year around the world, while 40 per cent of plastic produced is packaging that’s used just once and then discarded.
The scale of the problem can perhaps best be seen in the number of plastic bottles used: globally, nearly a million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute.
Of this plastic waste, an estimated 13 million tonnes end up in the world’s oceans each year. By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans.
Most plastics are made from fossil fuels like crude oil, which contributes to climate change and estimates for the time it takes plastics to break down range from 450 years to never.
It’s clear that plastic waste has become an environmental catastrophe we can no longer ignore, environmentalists say.
“Plastic is cheap, plastic is robust, plastic is flexible, plastic is useful. That is why we are consuming it at staggering rates and volumes. Plastic is everywhere, in everything. And precisely because it is everywhere, it is deteriorating our environment and oceans. Figures speak volume,” One-UN Rwanda Resident Coordinator Fode Ndiaye said yesterday.
“If we are to protect people, the planet and achieve prosperity, we need to address the two Ps – Plastic Pollution,” Ndiaye added.
Biruta is optimistic on the way forward. In the same way local and regional companies answered the call when Rwanda banned plastic bags, he said, the private sector should look to making timely transition and start developing solutions that beat plastic pollution.
However, Private Sector Federation chief executive Steven Ruzibiza urged thorough dialogue before any proposal is adopted to avoid possible losses for businesses.
His comments were echoed by Ignatius Mugabo of Jardin Meubles Co.Ltd, which produces plastic products.
“There is need for broader dialogue to ensure that the proposed regulations proposed find stakeholders ready to ensure a win-win situation,” Mugabo said.
Activities lined up during the ongoing National Environment Week include a countywide inspection of the illegal use of plastic bags, community work (Umuganda), a ‘Beat Plastic Pollution Walk’ in Kigali during Car Free Day next Sunday, a Green Drinks Kigali Discussion on plastic management, and an exhibition on plastic recycling, among others.