10 September 2012

Rwanda: We Must Not Back-Track On Plastic Bags Ban


Lately there have been muted calls for lifting or at least relaxing the eight-year ban on plastic bags in the country, with businesses arguing that the restriction puts them at a disadvantage.

According to the Private Sector Federation, there is shortage of affordable alternative packaging, yet the available options such as Tetra Pack cartons, HDPE Gallons and paper cartons are at least three times more expensive than the LLDPE polythene packaging, which is still in use in other regional countries.

As a result, they argue, the local industry sells their products at higher prices than their competitors from around the region, thus putting them at a disadvantage at a time when Rwanda has waived restrictions on goods originating from the East African Community (EAC).

Rwanda has taken the lead in getting rid of non-biodegradable materials as part of broader efforts to conserve the environment.

This campaign has certainly come at a cost, including use of more expensive packaging materials and inconvenient shopping on the part of consumers. Nonetheless, the positive impact of the ban on polythene bags is evident, notably the cleanliness and the less visible, long-term impact on the fertility of the country's soils.

It is worth noting that EAC is considering a similar move as a bloc inspired by Rwanda's experience. Therefore, other than pushing for a reversal of the ban, the private sector should exploit this restriction and come up with more environment-friendly packaging.

As such, reports that a UK firm and a local firm have joined hands to establish a plant in Kigali to manufacture biodegradable plastic materials could not have come at a better time.

The government should consider providing incentives to encourage anyone wishing to start up similar business in the country. And in the interest of protecting local traders from unfair competition, mechanisms should be devised to outlaw sale of products that are packaged in non-biodegradable materials on the local market, regardless of their origin.

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