Earlier this year, many commentators applauded France for its ban on plastic bags, commenting on how France portrays itself as an environmental model for other developed countries to follow. However, contrary to popular belief, France is not the first country to impose a plastic ban. Instead, many developing countries such as Bangladesh and Rwanda had already implemented their own plastic bag bans in 2002 and 2008 respectively.
In today’s post we will investigate the motivation and feasibility of the plastic ban in Rwanda.
Since 2008, any visitors entering Kigali International Airport will be warned about the country’s ban on plastic bag. Any plastic bags found on the visitor will be confiscated from the person. In addition, Rwanda’s law prohibits the manufacture, use, importation and sale of plastic bags. Owners of businesses that violate the ban can be imprisoned up to the period of 1 year. Anyone seen using a plastic bag is also subjected to stiff fines. The plastic ban has allowed Rwanda to differentiate itself from its surrounding neighbors. The clean streets of Kigali is nothing like the mountains of rubbish in other African countries.
According to Dr. Rose Mukankomeje, Director General of the Rwanda Environment Management, the plastic ban was motivated by the overwhelming negative impact of plastic bags on the Rwanda Environment. Before the ban, Rwanda relied heavily on incineration to dispose of plastic waste, contributing to severe air pollution in the country. In addition, plastic bags that were irresponsibly disposed tend to clog up the waterway, and contribute to heavy floods during the rainy seasons. Since the country was unable to afford expensive recycling facilities, it decided on the pursuit of a complete ban to control the plastic pollution.
Today, Rwanda’s plastic ban is seen by most as a success. Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is often considered to be the cleanest city in Africa. Rwanda’s new clean image is an important reason for the growth of its tourism sector in recent years.
Industries that were previously involved in the manufacturing of plastic bags has been reconverted into plastic recycling facilities through the provision of tax incentives.
However, Rwanda is starting to struggle with a lucrative black market for the shunned plastic bags. Increasingly, small business owners who rely on plastic bags have resorted to smuggling. Many vegetable vendors have commented on how it is impractical for them to use paper bags due to ‘vegetable sweat’. Water produced by the vegetables tends to dissolve the paper bags. If they fail to provide plastic bags, their customers are likely to buy from other alternative vendors. However, if the vendors are caught to be dispensing plastic bags, they are like to be fined or imprisoned. These poor vendors are thus caught in a double-bind. Overall, I argue that the ban on plastic bags leads to the marginalization of the poor.