Members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) want the use of polythene bags forbidden in all member countries. They argue that it is the only way to effectively protect the environment.
The legislators are in Kigali to discuss the Trans-boundary Ecosystem Bill 2010 of the East African Community (EAC).
If passed, it will enhance the quality of the environment and ensure sustainable utilisation of shared natural resources in member countries.
“If the law is passed, it will help to resolve the trans-boundary problems that impact neighbouring countries,” remarked Patricia Hajabakiga, Rwanda’s representative to EALA, who sits on the committee for agriculture, tourism and natural resources.
Members of the regional body expressed to The New Times their concerns about the use of polythene bags and encouraged other EAC countries to emulate Rwanda in abolishing the bags.
“These bags are environmentally dangerous; therefore it’s an issue that needs to be taken serious. We appreciate that Rwanda has eradicated these bags. In Uganda, we tabled a bill for the abolishment and we hope it will be approved soon,” said Mike Kennedy Ssebalu, EALA member representing Uganda.
Kenya has forbidden the use of flimsy plastic bags but they are still being used.
Research shows that most plastic bags end up in landfills. They take long to biodegrade and are a threat for agriculture. Similalrly, many animals like cows and goats die after swallowing plastic bags which they mistake for food.
There are recorded cases, like in Mali, where a veterinarian found more than 25 bags of plastic bags in the stomach of a cow. In Francophone Africa, polythene bags are nicknamed Fleurs du Sahel (Flowers of the Sahara).
Clarkson Otieno Karan, an EALA member from Kenya, noted that unless regional countries harmonise policies, polythene bags will remain a threat to the environment.
“If Kenyan business people would not profit from the bags, they (polythene bags) would have disappeared by now. We need serious governments that are concerned about the environment,” said Otieno
In 2004, the Rwandan government passed a law to get rid of polythene bags. It is the only African country where the ban has been successfully implemented.
An attendant at Ndoli’s Joint supermarket in Kisementi, says the new paper bags are popular amongst shoppers.
“Our customers, especially foreigners, appreciate the use of these paper bags in Rwanda .They say our bags are nice and environmentally friendly. Many of them believe the ban should be international.”