28 March 2019

Rwanda: Manufacturers Seek More Time to Phase Out Single-Use Plastics

Photo: The New Times/ John Mbanda
A man carries fresh beans in a plastic bag (file photo).

In January this year, cabinet approved a draft law banning single-use plastics as part of efforts to protect the environment from threats posed by to non-biodegradable materials.

However, local manufacturers have expressed fears that they could incur losses if the law comes into force with immediate effect.

The draft legislation is still under consideration in parliament where it is being scrutnised by a standing committee.

Under the draft law, the government proposes to give a two-year grace period to companies to stop manufacturing single-use plastics, a period which local manufacturers say is too short because some firms have heavily invested in manufacturing single-use plastics.

This, the manufacturers say, could expose them to the risk of losing a lot of money or end up failing to pay back bank loans.

During a meeting with the parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Environment on Tuesday, local manufacturers said there was a possibility they could run out of packaging alternatives once the single-use plastics are banned.

Many complained that the grace period should be made longer than just two years to allow for smooth transition.

Desire Uwayo, the Food Operations Division Manager at Entreprise Urwibutso, supports the government's move to ban single-use plastics but does not think it is not yet time to enforce the law saying he fears local firms could suffer losses.

Entreprise Urwibutso has reportedly spent over 190 million to change only one packaging line for Akarusho, its banana wine, which Uwayo says is costly for local firms which produce more than one product.

"The law will hopefully be a long-term solution to protect our environment, but we don't want to see businesses closing either. I think we can find a compromise where we can protect the environment by reducing the volume of single-use plastics and engage best practices to recycle used plastics, and then take time to find packaging alternatives that will replace plastics on a permanent basis instead of doing it right away," he said.

For other products, Uwayo said it is possible to find packaging alternatives but fears it could result in the increase of prices that could affect the competitiveness of local products in the region and overseas, especially in countries which use single-use plastics.

Claudine Mukeshimana, the Chairperson of Rwanda Association of Manufacturers, said the majority of the challenges facing local manufacturers lie in packaging.

She also challenged the committee to revise the draft law and, especially focus on its orientation, the proposed fines which are heavy and other inputs which could cause challenges to the local manufacturers and the private sector in general.

"Single-use plastics is a big issue for our environment and no one wants to live in a poisoned environment. But we should also keep in mind that investment in industries is key to national economic development. So let's save both the environment and business as well," she said.

Ignatienne Nyirarukundo, the Chairperson of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Environment, revealed that there are several alternatives in finding solutions to the challenges highlighted by local firms.

The local manufacturers were given two more weeks to discuss amongst themselves possible alternatives and ideas that can be shared with the committee.

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