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Plastic bags sneak back into Rwanda after eight years of ban

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Left: A Kigali street vendor sells peas packed in the banned polythene bags. Right: Plastic bags are seen at the main dumpsite in Nduba Sector, Gasabo District in Kigali City. The bags, which were banned in Rwanda, have sneaked back into the country.  Photos/CYRIL NDEGEYA

Left: A Kigali street vendor sells peas packed in the banned polythene bags. Right: Plastic bags are seen at the main dumpsite in Nduba Sector, Gasabo District in Kigali City. The bags, which were banned in Rwanda, have sneaked back into the country. Photos/CYRIL NDEGEYA  Nation Media Group

By EDMUND KAGIRE Rwanda Today

Posted  Friday, January 11  2013 at  14:43

In Summary

  • Whether it is individuals or organised smuggling rackets, it seems that the deadly polythene bag is determined to return to Rwanda.
  • Apart from high-end and middle-class shopping areas, heavy use of polythene bags is visible is slum areas.
  • Rema believes that Rwanda’s stance on plastic bags will not be affected by their emergence.
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For quite some time, Rwanda has etched its name in the global environmental records for successfully managing to abolish the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags that are a threat to the ecosystem.

Now it appears this record is under attack.

Whether it is individuals or organised smuggling rackets, it seems that the deadly polythene bag is determined to return to Rwanda, beating rigorous border and airport checks as well as enacting stringent legislation to find its way back in the local market.

The government however maintains the proliferation of the bags will not dent its resolve to maintain the ban, even as some private sector players pleaded to be given special leave to use them.

Research by Rwanda Today shows that the banned nylon packaging bags are somehow managing to find their way back — mainly within local market vendors, supermarkets and the elusive street hawkers.

They are mainly used to package and wrap groceries such as fruits, vegetables and confectionaries.

In 2008, Rwanda passed a law that banned the importation and use of polythene bags while possession or smuggling them into the country attracted heavy penalties.

Efforts to determine the source of the bags proved difficult as each vendor claims that they bought them from other traders in Nyabugogo. But most of the traders were non-committal on how the bags enter the country.

Attempts to extract information from the traders found in possession of the bags leads to panic and silence, for fear being apprehended.

Clementine Iribagiza, a fruit and legume trader at Kisementi, one of Kigali’s upmarket shopping centres, told Rwanda Today that the plastic bags are available in Nyabugogo, sometimes sold openly in shops.

“I buy them from Nyabugogo at a place commonly known as ‘Kwa Mutangana’. You can find them in shops around there. I buy them when I go to buy merchandise in wholesale, then I package them to sell to retailers,” the mother-of-two told Rwanda Today.

Ms Iribagiza, who sells her merchandise outside big supermarkets at Kisementi, knows that the plastic bags are illegal but she argues that it is not her fault to use them because she is not the one who imports them into the country.

Well-heeled culprits

“I have no choice. I need to look for money to feed my children and I also need to package my goods well for clients to buy,” said Ms Iribagiza, who targets high-end shoppers, usually in their vehicles, including top government officials.

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