The production, use and disposal of plastics are the biggest challenges in waste management. The world has yet to see an end to plastic pollution, even though governments have enacted legislative measures and even signed international pacts aimed at stemming the wave of threats from plastic waste.
Across Africa, plastic pollution remains a serious problem, damaging the health of communities, the environment and ecosystems on which millions of people depend. But amid this challenge, Rwanda remains at the forefront of waste management, with its capital Kigali earning the nickname “Africa’s cleanest city”.
Rwanda’s efforts began with a ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags in 2008, followed by a ban on single-use plastics, as part of a long-term strategy to become a green and climate-resilient country.
The ban aims to minimize the harm of plastic pollution to humans, farm animals, aquatic life and the environment. According to a World Bank report, Rwanda’s current strong institutional and political will, legal framework and citizens active in eliminating plastic pollution have contributed to socioeconomic development and environmental protection. The national motto for sustainable environmental management is: “What cannot be recycled or reused, must not be produced”.
National Policies and Common Goals
The country also has a number of national policies and laws on general pollution management: Vision 2020 (2000); Rwanda Green Growth and Climate Adaptation Strategy (2011); Solid Waste Recycling Regulations (2015); and Environmental Law (2018) year) etc. In addition, Rwanda has specific laws or policies that directly focus on plastic waste control. This includes Law No. 4. Regulation No. 57/2008 of 10 September 2008 prohibiting the manufacture, import, use and sale of polyethylene bags in Rwanda (2008).
In addition, as a signatory to international conventions, Rwanda is committed to making ambitious changes in the use, management and disposal of plastics in the country. For example, as a signatory to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the country seeks to contribute to the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement. Plastic pollution management in Rwanda falls within a broader strategic, regulatory and policy framework that underpins waste management.
However, for these commitments to truly take root, the support of local communities is needed. In Rwanda, this comes in the form of “Umuganda”, a Kinyarwanda word meaning “to come together for a common purpose”. This is a monthly community effort (including community cleanup) that was reintroduced into Rwandan life in 1998 as part of efforts to rebuild the country after the 1994 genocide. Today, it starts at 8:00 am on the last Saturday of every month and lasts for at least three hours, with participation by every able-bodied Rwandan between the ages of 18 and 65.
Home for Innovators
Rwanda has also established a dedicated innovation community in the field of plastic waste management. These include CareMeBioplastics and Toto Safi, both finalists in the Africa Plastics Challenge. SMEs like this illustrate the growing role of the private sector in the plastics value chain, especially in an African context where government infrastructure and services are limited or, in some places, non-existent. CareMeBioplastics is involved in the collection and recycling of plastics, using mobile applications to collect plastics from end users and process the collected plastics into valuable items such as school desks and indoor and outdoor furniture.
Toto Safi’s solution is a reusable cloth diaper service so parents don’t have to choose between convenience and pollution. Through this app, parents will be able to receive a fresh and affordable pack of cloth diapers. These two innovators represent the wider activity and commitment that the Rwandan landscape is promoting. They also demonstrated the importance of public-private partnerships in plastic waste management.
Despite this impressive success, waste management services in Rwanda still face significant challenges if the government, industry and businesses do not invest in and develop effective and efficient waste management systems.
Another challenge is the lack of data and data management systems for waste management, which makes it difficult to understand and design waste management policies and assess the impact of plastics policies on reducing plastic waste recycling in Rwanda.
Governments can address these challenges by developing robust data management systems to collect, record and report plastic data. Such systems are critical for facilitating policy performance measurement and improvement. It will enable countries to better track waste accumulation, waste flows and final destinations (e.g., tonnage recovered, recycled or disposed of), including changes in public behaviour towards plastic waste management practices, and enable governments to identify and evaluate future interventions Opportunity.
Governments also need to increase their support for sorting waste at source, with appropriate financial incentives to deal with sorted waste during collection and transport. Gradual increases in landfill dumping fees, illegal dumping fines, deposit refund schemes and other economic incentives in line with growing affluence in society will help encourage households and entities to separate recyclable plastics from other waste and reduce landfill disposal , to curb illegal dumping in Rwanda.
The private and public sectors need to stop being siloed as this issue affects both sectors. Where the public sector falls short, the private sector may be able to support through innovation and research, as evidenced by the tech startups mentioned above.
Education and awareness also play a key role in ensuring the success of these initiatives. It is prudent to incorporate the importance of proper waste management, recycling and the overall circular economy into education systems. This encourages a holistic, systems approach to the problem, thus ensuring the sustainability of the overall solution.
Finally, governments need to develop effective mechanisms and provide financial incentives to support local industries – such as construction and manufacturing – to incorporate recycled materials into their manufacturing processes and products.
These are the challenges facing governments in Africa and around the world. There is no doubt that Rwanda is a global leader in plastic waste management, and all governments should emulate Rwanda’s efforts to stimulate economic growth, maintain a clean environment and improve the health and well-being of citizens.
author Is the network coordinator of the Africa Circular Economy Network and co-founder of Ulu Bhutto.