In Rwanda it’s illegal to import, produce, use or sell plastic bags and plastic packaging except within specific industries like hospitals and pharmaceuticals.
Rwanda and many other nations around the world including China, France and Italy, have banned, restricted or taxed the use of plastic bags.
Those caught carrying illegal plastic in Rwanda, are liable to be fined, given a jail sentence of up to six months, or forced to make public confessions. The executives of companies that keep or make illegal plastic bags can be imprisoned for up to a year, officials say.
Stores that have been caught wrapping bread in cellophane have been shut down and fined, and their owners had to sign apology letters.
This is all part of Rwanda’s environmental cleanup.
Why the nation has taken such a strict approach against plastic bags is because they have been found to contribute to flooding and they prevent crops from growing because rainwater can’t penetrate the soil when it is covered with plastic.
As a result of this strict approach, streets in the capital, Kigali, and elsewhere across the country are nearly spotless. Men and women are regularly seen on the side roads sweeping up rubbish, and once a month, all citizens including the president are required to partake in a giant neighborhood cleaning effort.
People have gone to all types of lengths to try and smuggle this non-narcotic contraband into the country, including cellphone footage that showed a middle-aged woman who had been caught transporting plastic bags wrapped around her arms.
At the border where thousands of people, goods and animals flow back and forth, officials do their best to search luggage and entrants are patted down. Imported goods with plastic packaging are removed at customs, officials say, unless doing so would damage the goods. In that case, stores are required to remove the packaging before handing the merchandise to customers.
Food wrapped in cellophane is allowed only in hotels, and only if it does not leave the premises.
Biodegradable bags are allowed only for frozen meat and fish, not for other items like fruit and vegetables because such bags still take as long as 24 months to decompose, the government says.
Potato chips and other foods packed in plastic are allowed only if the companies making them are approved by the government — after showing a detailed business plan that includes how they plan to collect and recycle their bags.
And it all starts from a young age, as children are taught in schools not to use plastic bags and to cherish the environment.Smugglers are often held in detention centers or forced to write confessions in newspapers or broadcast them on the radio. Supermarkets caught selling food in plastic packaging are shut down until they pay a fine and write an apology.
The results of Rwanda’s efforts are evident in this clean country.