Last year, the Government gazetted the law prohibiting the manufacture, importation, use and sale of single-use plastic items in Rwanda.
Among the things that the law banned include; plastic bags, disposable cups, straws, coffee stirrers, soft drink and water bottles, as well as a range of food packaging materials.
Halfway through the two-year grace period, officials charged with implementing the ban are citing challenges in eliminating single-use plastics with the major hurdle being shortage of alternative materials.
Some of the manufacturers are still advocating for an extended grace period of five years, in part to help offset loans they took out.
Admittedly, the concerns raised by officials charged with implementing the legislation are understandable and the Government should move quickly to find ways of addressing them before the end of the grace period in 12 months’ time.
For example, the Government can introduce subsidies for the private sector to help them transition from producing plastics that pollute the environment to alternatives that are sustainable and environmentally friendly.
As well as incentives, innovation in the private sector – in production of recyclable materials, such as bioplastics – can help meet the target of getting rid of single-use plastics in the country by 2022.
In addition, there is need to raise more awareness about the issue and for everyone to adopt environment friendly attitudes and practices, starting with small but deliberate steps.
Over the last few years, a number of public institutions have stopped using plastic water bottles, switching to reusable alternatives such as glasses and refillable water dispensers. This is a good initiative and more institutions, including in the private sector, should adopt the practice.
In a way, we are not really starting from scratch. Rwanda was the first country in the region to successfully ban the use of plastic bags slightly over a decade ago and this should inspire us to dig deeper and find solutions to the challenge of phasing out single-use plastics.