Legislators Wednesday approved a bill prohibiting the manufacturing, importation, use and sale of polythene bags in the country.
The new legislation adds momentum to an earlier law on protection, conservation and management of the environment which initialed the current ban on polythene.
According to Aaron Makuba, the president of the parliament’s commission on agriculture, livestock and environment, the earlier law was the basis for this new one which puts particular emphasis on a particular type of environmentally harmful polythene.
“The law doesn’t completely do away with all kinds of plastics, but it will deal with a particular harmful type,” Makuba told the chamber of deputies.
He explained that not all plastic material is harmful or could be eliminated since many other important things are made from plastics.
The law defines this particular polythene as the synthetic plastic material made up of numerous simple molecules called ethene (monomer) with chemical formula CH2=CH2 normally used for packaging.
Some legislators, however, wondered how an ordinary person could understand the chemical formula in order to avoid that type of polythene.
The commission fielded many questions regarding the confusion surrounding the issue, especially on what type is banned and how the ban could be efficiently implemented.
Both the State minister in charge of Environment, Water and Mines Prof. Munyanganizi Bikoro and the Vice President of the commission, Julianna Kantengwa who were present during the debate, were tasked to shed light on the issue.
The minister acknowledged the fact that plastics come in many forms and uses and stressed that it would be proper to stick to only what is referred to in the law.
Kantengwa also reminded the MPs that ‘plastics’ is not Rwandan but a foreign word, hence the difficulty in finding a simpler definition.
“We could only refer to chemistry for a better explanation,” she said, adding, “It took us a whole week discussing this.”
She said the formula was causing problems but this should not be a problem to ordinary Rwandans since the key people – manufacturers and importers – know what is and what is not wanted, and will know what to put on the Rwandan market as required by the law.
“Unlike ordinary Rwandans, they are more knowledgeable,” she said.
According to the law, institutions to control the utilization of polythene include the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), Rwanda Bureau of Standards (RBS), security organs, local authorities and others authorized by REMA.
Rwanda is one of the countries focused on curbing the harmful consequences of polythene, especially the dangers posed to the environment. Discarded polythene bags choke the sewers and most often find their way into the stomachs of cattle.
The presence of chemicals in polythene bags affects soil fertility and hence plant yields, while burning of polythene bags releases poisonous gases and harmful chemicals into the atmosphere.
Using paper bags instead of polythene bags is seen by many as a viable option.