Environmentalists complain over mosquito net packaging

Environmentalists have appealed to the Ministry of Health to engage the supplier of treated mosquito nets in the country, locally known as Super Nets, to ensure the materials into which they are packaged are bio-degradable.
Mosquito bed nets at IFAK students hostel. New bed nets are packaged in materials hard to recyle. (T. Kisambira)
Mosquito bed nets at IFAK students hostel. New bed nets are packaged in materials hard to recyle. (T. Kisambira)

Environmentalists have appealed to the Ministry of Health to engage the supplier of treated mosquito nets in the country, locally known as Super Nets, to ensure the materials into which they are packaged are bio-degradable.

Every year, the government, through the Ministry of Health, imports millions of the bed nets, as part of the efforts to reduce malaria incidences, which has greatly paid off.

However, the fabric into which the nets are packaged poses environmental hazard because it is not easily recycled, according to experts in recycling business, who say they can only recycle the packaging material with low density polyethylene.

Wenceslas Habamungu, the manager of Ecoplastic, a Kigali-based recycling plant, said initially, the bed-nets’ bags were easily recyclable, but the recent batches are made of hard fabric that makes it expensive for them to recycle.

“We are requesting that suppliers use the ordinary plastic bags that are easy for recycling in our country; otherwise we have been easily recycling the millions of bed-net covers across the country with ease,” Habamungu said.

Rwanda, in 2008, passed a law that banned the use of polythene bags in the country, in an effort to preserve the environment and only those that are bio-degradable are currently allowed in the country.

Habamungu said it requires adding more substances to neutralise the fabric that is used to be able to recycle the current material in which the nets are imported, which he said is a tedious and costly undertaking.

The other problem, they say, is lack of a product that could come out of the recycled bed net packing, unlike other materials they recycle such as plastic water bottles and drinking straws.

“We want to request the ministry to make it clear when they are calling for bids for the supply of the nets, to ensure that the packaging is biodegradable,” said Jean de Dieu Kagabo, who heads Soft Packaging Ltd, another recycling firm based in Ndera Sector, Gasabo District.

REMA aware

Officials at Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) say they have requested the ministry to heed the recyclers’ requests to ensure these fabrics don’t end up polluting the environment.

“There are many kinds of bags of which some are too hard for machines to recycle. Previously, the ministry was importing nets packaged in better bags but those ones they currently bring are bad for recycling and they are many,” Kagabo said.

“It might take time for the suppliers’ contact to end and then for the next tender they can change the packaging or bring back the previous ones.”

Nathan Mugume, the head of communication at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, told The New Times that the Ministry of Health, on the REMA’s instructions, has done a lot to collect the mosquito net bags and delivering them to recycling factories.

He said they would discuss with the authority again on the nature of the new bags.

“We will sit down again with REMA and discuss more and discern which packages they prefer so that we change for the next importation. We are committed to resolve all the challenges as they will present them to us,” Mugume said, adding that it is after this that they would clearly communicate with the supplier with new instructions.

Fugures show that more than 83 per cent of households in the country have treated mosquito nets, while recently, government distributed more than 1.4 million nets across 13 districts most prone to malaria.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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