Since Rwanda banned the use of plastic bags, many vendors turned to old newspapers and school past papers for packaging foodstuff, but experts say that these materials contain ink that is harmful to health.
Charles Karangwa, a senior lecturer and specialist in toxicology at the College of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Rwanda, said ink is made of compounds that can be dangerous to human life.
“That ink might cause respiratory ailment that could potentially last long due to organic compounds it containts,” Karangwa said.
Raymond Murenzi, the director-general of Rwanda Standards Board, said the standard code outlines the specifications and components of what should be used to package edible products.
Some of the foodstuff that are normally packaged in old newspapers are doughnuts, cake, samosas, among others.
“What is being done, especially by small retail shops in neighbourhoods (that use newspapers and past academic papers to package foodstuff) is illegal. Wherever we get information on such practices we go there and educate them on the standards in place,” he said.
He called for continued education, adding that local leaders must come on board to ensure people desist from the hazardous practice.
“One institution cannot handle this matter alone in the whole country. Both buyers and sellers must be sensitised on the dangers paused by using these materials,” he said.
Users speak out
A vendor, who only identified himself as Karemera, sells popcorn in the busy Giporoso trading centre in Remera Sector.
He said using the recommended manila envelopes would cost him four times what he pays for past papers from a nearby school.
“Some students give them to me in exchange for popcorns,” Karemera said.
In 2008, while the rest of the world was barely starting to consider a tax on single-use plastic bags, Rwanda decided to ban non-biodegradable polythene bags completely.