More than half of Africa’s 54 nations are now pursuing some form of anti-plastic legislation. Amongst these how has Rwanda, a country with a particularly troubled history, become informally known as one of the cleanest on the planet?
Rwanda was one of the first of its neighbours to take up the fight against plastic pollution, implementing a ban on some single use plastics as early as 2008. Moreover it seems to have succeeded in infusing a love of clean cities, clean water and clean land into the popular consciousness via officially sanctioned initiatives including formalized community service days on the last Saturday of each month, a large part of which work comprises waste collection. This custom of “Umuganda” is led from the top, with politicians and community leaders rolling up their sleeves and playing their part. Public participation is not merely encouraged but enforced, with police empowered to fine any able-bodied adult who refuses to take part.
Rwanda’s unique approach to plastic governance is therefore reflective of its unique culture, distinctive approach to politics and the legacy of a turbulent past. In this policy brief drawn from recently concluded research by the Governing Plastics Network‘s partners at the University of Rwanda, we consider the country’s apparent successes in legislating against plastic pollution and look at the challenges it still faces in addressing this wicked problem.
What has Rwanda achieved so far?
Rwanda has adopted various measures to better manage and reduce the use of plastics, including law no 17/2019 of 10/08/2019 prohibiting the manufacturing, importation, use and sale of plastic carry bags and single-use plastic items. The transition to a circular and eco-efficient economy is being promoted through the National Policy on Environment and Climate Change of 2019 and the Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy of 2011 and is under revision since 2020.
In addition, a large number of policy instruments – ranging from awareness campaigns to inspections and penalties in the form of fines and confiscation of prohibited plastics– are being applied. The country has also been successful in significantly reducing plastic bag waste by enforcing the law through joint-monitoring and inspection by different institutions (e.g. Rwanda Environment Management Authority, Rwanda National Police, and local administrative entities). The country also uses a range of communication channels to raise awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution. Crucially, effective awareness campaigns have been found to require the use of multiple communication channels, focusing on community-based awareness campaigns (e.g. Umuganda, Umugoroba w’umuryango).
Rwanda also promotes cleaner production through its Cleaner Production & Climate Innovation Centre (CPCIC) which offers advisory services on adoption of cleaner production and climate resilient technologies, helping businesses transition to alternatives.
Nonetheless, there remain a number of limitations to what Rwanda has been able to achieve:
1) Current policy and legal frameworks do not cover all plastics.
2) Existing communication strategies only reach a limited proportion of the public.
3) There is a lack of recorded data on enforcement.
4) Efforts to implement alternatives such as recycling and circular economy activities are hampered by a lack of technical and financial resources, an area sorely in need to attention.
5) Tailoring of communication products and channels to specific audiences remains limited.