WED: What has Rwanda gained from banning use of plastic bags?

Every June 5 is World Environment Day, a day dedicated to global awareness and action to protect the environment.

Some people could have been skeptical when the law against the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags was put in place in Rwanda, in 2008, as a way to save the environment.

 

This not only puts Rwanda on the list of the cleanest countries, but also saves it from dangers of the polyethylene bags, the Minister of Environment, Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya.

 

“Since Rwanda decided to ban the use of polyethylene bags, much has been achieved. Now, water penetrates land as needed, and our domestic animals no longer die from swallowing the plastic.

 

“With the decision, we managed to protect the plants and animals. Wild animals in parks no longer die from eating plastic bags littered either by national or foreign citizens. Our forests are protected as well.”

Mujawamariya says cleanliness is an added value that comes when the environment is protected.

Most plastic items never fully disappear when thrown in water or on land. They just get smaller and smaller.

Many of these tiny plastic particles are swallowed by farm animals or fish who mistake them for food, and this can lead them into our food.

Plastic waste, especially plastic bags block sewers and provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes and pests, and can increase the transmission of vector-borne diseases like malaria.

“Although we have done a good job, more needs to be done. There are smugglers who bring the plastic bags in the country. We however salute the national police which helps the government in arresting those people,” Mujawamariya adds.

The minister urges the public to understand that their livelihood complements the environment.

“They have to know that their lives are made better when the rest of the environment is also in a better condition.

Global condition

UN data indicate that more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the early 1950s, as of 2018. About 60% of that plastic has ended up in either a landfill or the natural environment.

Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, whereas about 12% has been burnt, and 79% has accumulated in landfills, dumps or the natural environment.

More than 99% of plastics produced from chemicals are derived from oil, natural gas and coal, and the report indicates that if current trends continue, by 2050 the plastic industry could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption.

Also, oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050, if no intervention is made.

Common plastic waste is made of cigarette butts, drink bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, grocery bags and straws, among others that most of us don’t know or care where they end up.

About WED 2020

This year, World Environment Day will be celebrated under the theme: ‘Time for Nature’, but according to the minister, Rwanda will not be able to celebrate the day because of Covid-19 preventive measures.

“We won’t be able to go upcountry to meet citizens for community work (Umuganda) as we usually do, because of social distancing. We have to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but still, protecting the environment.

She adds that people should not see social distancing as an opportunity to illegally cut down trees in forests.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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