Rwandan legislator keen to brand EAC green and clean

MP Patricia Hajabakiga, a Rwandan member of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) has introduced a bill that will control the use, sale, manufacture and importation of polythene materials in the region.
Experts have warned that polythene bags carry health risks. / Internet photo
Experts have warned that polythene bags carry health risks. / Internet photo

MP Patricia Hajabakiga, a Rwandan member of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) has introduced a bill that will control the use, sale, manufacture and importation of polythene materials in the region.

Hajabakiga who is the chairperson of EALA Rwanda Chapter said the rationale of the bill is “the protection of the environment” and to harmonize the practice in all five countries.

 

“I moved a motion to seek leave from the Assembly to introduce the Bill seeking to regulate the use of Plastic materials in the EAC. Countries like Rwanda are advanced, Uganda has started implementation, Burundi already has a policy while Tanzania has announced that effective this year they will stop using them,” she told Sunday Times.

 

“It is also important to note that the EAC Treaty in its article 112 provides that Partner States agree to cooperate and promote the biodegradable packaging material in order to arrest the degradation of our environment.”

 

The Bill for an Act entitled East African Community Polythene Materials Control Bill, 2016, once tabled in the near future, will have clauses clarifying what material is prohibited and exempted, as well as clarity of sanctions and penalties.

The idea is that the Act will eventually apply to all types of polythene materials; with polythene, in this case, implying a synthetic industrial product with a low density composed of numerous chemical molecules of ethane with a chemical formula: CH2=CH2.

As per the lawmakers current draft, the objectives of the Act will be to: establish a legal framework for the control of polythene use; promote use of environmental friendly package materials; preserve and promote a clean and healthy environment and land use management for sustainable development; and prevent the pollution caused by polythene materials in lakes, rivers and oceans.

It will also aim to protect infrastructure including drainage systems, biodiversity and livestock, and “brand the EAC as green and clean.”

The Bill, among others, provides for transitional provisions and, it is likely that once it comes into force, elimination of polythene bags shall be complete in all Partner States within one year.

It is suggested that the Council, the central decision-making and governing Organ of the EAC, may – in consultation with the Partner States – establish a list of polythene materials necessary to be used in exceptional cases.

This list may be updated at such time as the Council deems necessary.

Currently, the list of exempted polythene materials includes materials used in medical services; industrial packaging; the construction industry, including water pipes; and in the manufacture of tents.

Among the five EAC countries, only Rwanda has managed to control polythene as in the other countries large tracts of land are virtually carpeted with plastic bags.

Rwanda started imposing the ban as far back as 2008 and ever since, visitors have their plastic bags confiscated at the airport and other entry points.

Innocent Kabenga, a former university lecturer carried out research on banning plastic bags many years ago. He told Sunday Times that a similar scenario in all countries will have health dividends.

“One most important thing is that the Bill will put a stop to or considerably reduce air pollution and health hazards caused by burning plastic waste in the EAC. The burning of plastic bags which is practiced in EAC is the source of respiratory diseases,” he said.

The former economics lecturer who is now country representative of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), a new international organization committed to strong, inclusive green growth, noted that plastic waste is “not biodegradable” and when buried under causes soil degradation.

Kabenga added: “Plastic bags are source of water pollution and it can be seen in EAC cities riparian to the Indian Ocean and Lake Victoria. There is also visual pollution caused by plastic waste where in many EAC cities you see plastic bags everywhere reducing the city scenery into plastic dumping cities”.

During the current EALA sitting in Arusha, Tanzania, Hajabakiga stressed that Partner States are signatories to various international environment agreements intended to regulate the environment. Polythene products like polythene bags, she noted, are a menace to the environment and its habitat and their use need to be controlled.

Polythene waste pollution is reportedly worsening due to preference for polythene as packaging material for shopping and other uses, leading to mounting quantities of plastic in household waste.

Apart from its slow degradation rate – as long as 400 years – polythene is a source of environmental pollution, especially visual, with urban areas being the worst hit.

This is compounded by inability to manage waste, the lawmaker noted, and recycling of polythene is more expensive than producing new ones.

While plastic waste is considered harmful to the environment and a health hazard, she said, the problem has not received due attention in the wider region.

Article 433 of the Rwandan Penal Code stipulates that managers of industries, companies or sole proprietorship found in possession of polythene without authorization, manufacturing or using them shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of at least two months but less than six months and a fine of Rwf500,000 to Rwf3,000,000 or one of these penalties.

It further states that any person who sells polythene without authorization shall be liable to a fine of Rwf10,000 to Rwf300,000 while anyone using polythene shall be liable to a fine of Rwf 5,000 to Rwf100,000 in addition to the confiscation of the polythene.

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