By Michel Nkurunziza
The government says it will start penalising wholesalers, retailers and consumers that still use single-use plastics with heavy fines following the expiration of a three-month period grace period.
The move, which was announced by the Ministry of Environment and Rwanda Environment Management Authority, comes as an enforcement of law N° 17/2019 of 10/08/2019 relating to the prohibition of manufacturing, importation, use and sale of plastic carry bags and single-use plastic items in Rwanda.
In October 2019, the Government granted dealers a grace period of three months to clear their stocks before starting to penalize them.
“We should have started to penalise the dealers since the beginning of this month. They should know that banned items have alternatives. If they do not comply, from now, heavy fines are awaiting them,” said Dr Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, the Minister for Environment, during a news conference on Wednesday.
The ministry has advised dealers to turn to alternative products such as reusable glasses, wooden straws, and stirrers if they are to remain in business.
For instance, single-use plastic materials like forks, spoons, knives, cups, plates, takeaway containers can be substituted by reusable utensils and containers.
Balloons can be replaced with locally made decoration materials while plastic folders and badges also have alternative paper folders and badges, officials explained.
Mujawamariya said that ear buds, plastic toothbrushes can be replaced with plant-based or wooden ones, adding that consumers should use reusable glasses or plastic bottles, water dispensers instead of using the single-use plastic bottles.
Plastic advertisement, fliers and “cheering” materials used at stadiums and big gatherings can also be replaced with paper or compostable materials or digital billboards.
The law says that the manufacturer of single-use plastic products will be banned from operating, be dispossessed of the products and be charged with administrative fines worth Rwf10 million.
The Government will also seize products of importers of single-use plastic products and a fine worth ten times the value of the products will be slapped on the dealer.
Wholesale dealers caught selling single-use plastic products face an administrative fine of Rwf700,000, in addition to confiscation of their products. On the other hand, retailers will be penalised with Rwf300,000 fines and have their products seized.
The law adds that those who will be caught dumping single-use plastics at unsuitable sites will pay a fine of Rwf50,000.
If people or companies with special permissions to use single-use plastic items do not comply with recommended actions, they will have to pay Rwf5 million in fines and lose their operating licenses.
The impact of plastic products
Mujawamariya explained that single-use plastic products have negative consequences on human health, animals, environment and biodiversity in general.
“Researchers say that when people consume hot food and beverages in contact with plastics, they are contaminated with different diseases due to the chemical reaction that happens,” she said.
Among the diseases that may result from this chemical reaction, she said, include respiratory diseases, optical complications, liver dysfunction, and it can affect unborn babies, cause heart disease, gastro-intestine effects, reproductive health problems or infertility especially among men.
Plastics also kill animals that consume them and can lead to the extinction of marine species such as fish.
Factories ordered to change model
Even though manufacturers of single-use plastic products have been given a two-year grace period for transition, officials said that even these have to start embracing other options.
“This means they can only produce plastic products that don’t have alternatives on the market and products that are exempted,” said Coletha Ruhamya, the Director General of Rwanda Environment Management.
Rwanda has six recycling firms for plastics.
“The companies can recycle only 10 per cent of plastics and, therefore, they are not sole solutions to single-use plastics. Other alternatives are needed,” she said.