Rwanda has put in place a total ban on all single-use plastics, making it the first country in the eastern African region to do so. This comes on the back of a draft law adopted by Cabinet back in January which sought to prohibit the manufacture, use, and sale of the item.

Single-use plastics are used only once before most of them are disposed of, thus polluting the environment. Such items include plastic bags and containers, straws, coffee stirrers, bottles, plastic cutlery, and most food packaging materials.

“The new law is intended to check unnecessary consumption and disposal of single-use plastic items, which are harmful to the environment,” Vincent Biruta, Rwandan Minister of Environment, was quoted as saying by The East African.

The ban complements another that has existed for over 10 years. The 2008 law, which prohibits the manufacturing, importation, use, and sale of polythene bags in Rwanda, is limited to polythene bags. But the latest one is extensive in scope, covering all single-use plastic items and other types of plastics which also have harmful effects on the environment.

Retailers have three months to phase out their stocks and find alternatives, while industrial users and local producers of single-use plastics have been given a two-year deadline. Plastic duty-free bags are also not authorized to be brought into the country, affecting the operations of importers.

“Producers of single-use plastics have been duly informed in a timely manner and will be required to adjust,” the minister said, adding that alternatives such as paper or bamboo serve the same purpose without destroying the environment.

Failure to adhere to the new law attracts hefty penalties – a fine of about $10,984 (10 million Rwandan Francs) for anyone who manufactures polythene bags and single-use plastic items besides the closure of the facility, while an importer may be fined an equivalent to 10 times the value of the materials. Trade licenses could also be revoked.

Over time, Rwanda has been successful in driving down the use of plastic bags. Apart from stipulated heavy penalties, there are constant police operations at border posts and airports for monitoring and checking of luggage for banned polythene.

The country has always been at the forefront – both in sub-Saharan Africa and globally – in the fight against the use of non-biodegradable plastics. And the new law further solidifies its position in protecting the environment.

But the legislation comes at an unavoidable cost particularly for factories making single-use plastics in the country; traders, companies, and industries that rely on plastics; employees that will lose their jobs as the ban hits the industry; as well as the final consumer who is left with more costly alternatives.

“We are definitely going to lose many customers who relied on single-use plastics,” Wenceslas Habamungu, the Managing Director of Ecoplastic told The East African. The company has been supplying single-use plastics since 2010.

Since the draft law was passed earlier this year, reports say that manufacturers in Rwanda have been trying to see if they can get other alternatives, which are more expensive. One of the options is paper straws but are associated with higher production costs and would be more expensive for consumers.

Generally, the prohibition of plastic bags and items come with unintended negative consequences. It results in a price increase for consumers; a decrease in profit for producers; and a reduction in economic activity in the area affected by the ban.

The government has often been urged for support and to ensure that policies are in place to promote alternative products. It is expected to carry out a study on the impact of the ban after which it may move to help businesses adjust.

Around three factories reportedly make single-use plastic items in the East African country. The future of such companies, as well as other businesses, is uncertain as they try to adapt to the government’s new move to curb plastic pollution.


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