In 2006, Rwanda passed a bill banning the manufacture, importation and use of plastic bags. The main concern was to address the adverse environmental consequences associated with the non-biodegradable nature of plastics.
Polythene is the most widely used plastic globally, with an annual production of approximately 80 million metric tonnes. Its primary use is packaging and its effects on the environment are adverse. Plastic bags are a breeding ground for disease spreading vectors, they prevent water penetration into the soil which leads to low agricultural productivity, they are deadly to livestock when ingested, when burnt they release toxic fumes that are dangerous for human respiratory health, they clog drainage channels and they are annoyingly light and easily blown by winds hence littering the environment.
It was only through community involvement in the plastic bag embargo, supported by government authorities like the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), police and custom officers in collaboration with security officers at air terminals and Rwandan boarders that the importation and use of plastic bags has declined.
The decision to ban plastic bags by the Rwandan government was met with a mixture of feelings; some traders claimed the embargo was a hindrance to development since polythene bag manufacturers lost customers yet paper bags were eight times more expensive.
However, the government’s sensitization campaigns created enormous awareness among the masses and the results are positively evident today.
Rwanda’s major cities and towns are notably the cleanest on the continent, complementing the already beautiful scenery.
Additionally, more jobs have been locally created among Rwandans involved in income generating activities such as weaving where they make environmentally friendly carry materials such as bags made of cloth, banana fibres and palm leaves.
Today, a boom in the paper bag industry has also been registered which implies that the pros of the plastic bag ban greatly outweigh its cons.