For visitors who arrive in Rwanda for the first time by air, their first impression about this small central African country is most likely to be its great efforts in plastic control.
At the Kigali International Airport, visitors are asked to refrain from bringing plastic bags into the country, as any plastic bags will be confiscated at the airport or other points of entry.
On the outskirts of the capital city Kigali, different machines at the site of waste collection company COPED can be seen busy running, making piercing noises as they grind waste.
Rwanda’s efforts to be plastic free are expressed through relevant laws that were introduced as early as 2008. In that year, the country passed its first law banning the manufacture, import, use, and sale of polyethylene bags.
Four years later, as part of supporting the aforementioned law, Rwanda created the Environment and Climate Change Fund as a cross-sector financing mechanism to achieve the development goals of environmentally sustainable, climate-resilient, and green economic growth.
In 2019, Rwanda passed a transformative law that began phasing out all single-use plastics. The law aims to control the growing habit of unnecessary consumption and disposal of single-use plastic items that became a burden on the environment.
The law also imposes stiff fines against users using single-use plastics. In recent years, the country has taken a step further to make plastic waste an investment opportunity. COPED is one of the most known waste collection companies in Kigali.
The company recycles certain non-perishable waste, including single-use plastic materials, and plastic and glass bottles, into building materials, such as cobblestones and building blocks.
“We filter the perishable waste from the non-perishable ones, then from the perishable waste we produce manure and we grind the imperishable, (from which) we produce building materials. So for us, waste is another way to do business and make money,” Mutabazi Emmanuel, COPED production Manager told Xinhua in a recent interview.
“We use plastic porridge instead of sand, and glass bottle powder instead of cement,” he said, adding that their business is contributing to environmental protection because the extraction of sand, the production of cement, as well as plastic waste, damage the environment.
Youth associations in collaboration with the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) are also organizing community mobilization activities to combat plastic waste. The Rwanda Scouts Association, for instance, has a project called
“Tide Turner Plastic Challenge” to initiate the scouts and the communities to fight against the pollution caused by used plastics. Virgile Uzabumugabo, National Coordinator of the Rwanda Scouts Association said the association started its activities after the call of the government to fight against plastic waste and think about profiting from it.
“We started the project with sponsorship from the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP. We intend to strengthen our collaboration with REMA, and fellow youth associations until we create our own factory that transforms plastic waste into other objects,” said Uzabumugabo. Uzabumugabo said that at the moment, their work is limited to raising awareness and collecting waste which they sell to companies that transform it into other environmentally friendly and useful things.
According to REMA, the plastic problem worries the world at large due to the environmental degradation both on land and in water. Jeannette Mugwaneza, REMA’s project manager, said REMA promotes the production of other materials from plastic waste and sensitizes the public about the dangers of plastics and the benefits of recycling.