Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) in collaboration with Police’s Crime Investigation Department, has resumed a nationwide crackdown on illegal use of plastic bags.
In Kigali, an inspection was conducted on Wednesday in Nyarutarama, Kibagabaga, Kimironko and Nyabugogo markets, particulary targeting shops, supermarkets, bakeries and butcheries, among others.
Janvier Havugiyaremye, who was driving a Toyota Corolla full of loaves of bread some of which were packaged in plastic bags, said the loaves are packed by his suppliers.
He said he normally buys bread from Gisozi and Gasanze bakeries and sells them to retailers in Nyarutarama and Kagugu. “I buy some of them packed in plastic bags,” he said.
He asked for forgiveness promising to embrace alternative packaging materials. He was forgiven, but his illegally packaged loaves, worth Rwf20,000, were confiscated by REMA.
A 2008 ban on manufacturing, importation, use and sale of plastic bags has earned Rwanda international recognition in environment conservation.
“What is deplorable is that some people still show reluctance to abandon these bags yet they have alternatives,” REMA’s environmental inspection officer Israel Dufatanye told journalists on the tour.
REMA’s Director General Coletha Ruhamya called on Rwandans to alert the environment watchdog whenever they see a person using or selling plastic bags.
She also urged them “not to accept that a business operator packages their items in plastic bags because environmental-friendly packaging materials are available on the market.”
The law banning plastic bags allows for exclusive packaging of meat, chicken, fish and milled cassava leaves because it makes it easier to refrigerate them.
But some traders abuse the exception to include other products as well, Dufatanye said.
According to the law, factories found using banned plastic bags should face a fine of between Rwf100,000 and Rwf500,000 with owners facing jail term of six to twelve months.
An individual who sells the banned bags is fined between Rwf10,000 and Rwf300,000 while buyers are fined between Rwf5,000 and Rwf100,000.
Before the ban, Rwandans used to package everything in plastic bags and plastic trashes were sprawled everywhere in the country.
Plastics were also scattered on agricultural land with non-biodegradable materials preventing water penetration and preventing plants to grow.
Sometimes plastic wastes were also burned, releasing toxic pollutants into the air, water sources were also becoming highly polluted with plastic, choking to death many species of fish.
In addition, “due to the lightweight nature of plastic bags, they were being blown and littered everywhere which hindered our efforts for a clean country,” REMA said.
However, most of Rwanda’s neighbours are still tolerant to plastic bags use, which to some extent undermines Rwandan green policies, according to Dufatanye.
“Neighbouring countries have no anti-plastic bags laws, some people smuggle those bags to Rwanda,” Dufatanye said, but welcomed the recent move by Kenya to ban plastic bags.
“We believe that other EAC member states will follow suit,” he added.
Kenya in August this year enacted a law banning plastic bags with those producing, selling or even using plastic bags risking imprisonment of up to four years or a fine of $40,000.