Monday Moaning

Stop Global Whining!

Everybody is hooked on plastic bags, on plastic packaging, etc. Although we have discovered that plastic bags only make up a small amount of the total pollutants (covered in a previous post), they are among the most visible.

We can find plastic bags hanging on trees and fences, blowing across the landscape, clogging ditches and waterways, choking marine life in the sea; not to mention the landfills are full of them.

Some countries have added a surcharge on plastic bags in supermarkets as a means of reducing their use. This has worked to a limited extent.

But we need to go further.

There is one country, and a most unlikely one, that has banned plastic bags of all types. You even get your baggage searched at the airport arrivals and any plastic bags are confiscated.

Think you can’t live without plastic bags? Consider this: Rwanda did it

As a post-genocide nation with a developing economy, Rwanda could have dismissed the bag ban as unnecessary. But it didn’t

A shopper carries her shopping with free supermarket shopping bags. Photograph: ANDY RAIN/EPA

On a recent trip to Rwanda, my luggage was searched at the border, and the authorities confiscated some of my belongings. No, I wasn’t trying to smuggle drugs or weapons. The offenders? Three plastic bags I’d use to carry my shampoo and dirty laundry.

You see, non-biodegradable polythene bags are illegal in Rwanda. In 2008, while the rest of the world was barely starting to consider a tax on single-use plastic bags, the small East African nation decided to ban them completely.

At Kigali International Airport, a sign warns visitors that plastic bags will be confiscated. Agents from the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) cut the plastic wrapping off negligent travellers’ suitcases. Throughout the country, businesses have been forced to replace plastic carrier bags with paper ones.

The ban was a bold move. It paid off. As soon as I set foot in Rwanda from neighboring Uganda, it struck me. It’s clean. Looking out the window of the bus that was taking me to Kigali, the capital, I could see none of the mountains of rubbish I’d grown accustomed to in other African countries. No plastic carrier bags floating in the wind or stranded on a tree branch.

Upon arrival in Kigali the contrast is even more evident. With its lovely green squares and wide boulevards, the Rwandan capital is one of the most beautiful cities in Africa. And it’s immaculate. Enough to teach a lesson to scruffy – albeit beloved – Western metropolises like New York or London. And the ban on plastic bags is just the start for Rwanda. It’s all part of the Vision 2020 plan to transform the country into a sustainable middle-income nation.

Eventually, the country is looking to ban other types of plastic and is even hinting at the possibility of becoming the world’s first plastic-free nation. Its constitution recognizes (pdf) that “every citizen is entitled to a healthy and satisfying environment.” It also underlines each citizen’s responsibility to “protect, safeguard and promote the environment”.

Throughout the world, many initiatives to reduce or ban the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags have been halted because of economic concerns. In England, for example, there is ongoing concern that a 5p levy on single-use carrier bags could harm small businesses.

Still reeling from a horrific genocide which resulted in the deaths of over 800,000 people in 1994, Rwanda could have dismissed the plastic ban as an unnecessary hindrance for its developing economy. It could have opted for a simple levy on plastic carrier bags, as have many other American cities. But the authorities’ main concern was the way in which plastic bags were being disposed of after use. Most were being burned, releasing toxic pollutants into the air, or left to clog drainage systems.

Knowing it lacked the basic facilities to sustainably manage plastic waste, Rwanda devised a clever strategy to turn the ban into a boost to its economy. The authorities encouraged companies that used to manufacture plastic bags to start recycling them instead by providing tax incentives. The policy also created a market for environmentally friendly bags, which were virtually non-existent in the country before the ban.

Now in its sixth year, the policy has proved efficient, if not perfect. Rwanda is starting to struggle with a lucrative black market for the shunned plastic bags. The excessive use of paper bags is also starting to raise concerns. But the mere fact that a developing country facing tremendous challenges has managed to enforce such groundbreaking legislation should make us wonder what the western world could achieve if the political will really existed.

000theGuardianLogo

Opinion:

If a country like Rwanda can do it, everybody can do it. Simple.

The problem is that we don’t really want to. Everybody moans and groans, and we pay lip service to the problem, but we don’t really want to give up such a convenience.

c_stop_global_whining

My message is Stop Global Whining and do it!

Only when we ban them completely will the problem go away.

plastic-kills-marine-life

sweepitunderthesea

Just because we can’t see it under the sea, doesn’t mean it’s not there!

 

 

Advertisements

5 responses to this post.

  1. This is great. Yay for Rwanda! I wish more countries would do the same.

    Like

    Reply

  2. I think this goes to show that just as I have looked into the past and how my grandparents lived to learn more about green living, we may be able to look at emerging economies who are setting an example.

    I don’t get the fears associated with bag fees. We are used to taxes on just about everything, and a couple stores have fees for bags already. If everyone did it there wouldn’t be an option and it would just be another fee to pay or make a switch to reusable bags if you didn’t want to pay the fee. It’s not hard to do.

    Like

    Reply

Be green, say something

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: