Rwanda is set to become the first East African country to ban all single-use plastics, which they hope to achieve by 2021. Retailers of single-use plastics have three months to clear their stocks and manufacturers have a two-year deadline.
Following the success of the plastic bag ban in 2008, Rwanda will now prohibit the manufacturing, importation, use and sale of all single-use plastics in an attempt to become the world’s first plastic-free country. There are fines in place if these restrictions are not upheld. Manufacturers of polythene single-use plastics, for example, will be fined up to Rwf 10 million (around USD 10,000), as well as having their trade licence revoked.
The environmental impacts of single-use plastics are well documented: the waste streams end up in oceans and landfill; marine life and terrestrial animals ingest them; particles pollute air and water supplies; and, a particular problem in Africa, incineration releases fumes that are harmful to the environment, humans and animals.
Africa is leading the way in banning plastic bags, with 34 nations implementing some form of plastics ban or tax. However, these policies have attracted criticism for the loss of jobs it has caused in manufacturing as well as the fact that some of the replacements like cotton tote bags and polypropylene are also environmentally damaging. Many poor people in Rwanda, especially women, rely on plastic bag production for their livelihoods, and because policies have not been implemented on a regional scale, smuggling from neighboring countries where such bans are not in place is also an issue. Despite criticism about the effectiveness of plastic bans, the UN released an environmental study advocating the success of such policies in May this year.
These policies have partly been a result of public awareness campaigns, such as James Wakibia’s social media campaign which called to ban plastics in his home county of Kenya with the hashtag: #banplasticsKE. Local grassroots movements such as these show the power of public awareness campaigns to garner support and influence policy at a national level.