June 19, 2024

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Rwanda stands on the changing scope for the reduction of production of primary plastic polymers

By Ange de la Victoire DUSABEMUNU

According to experts, plastic consumption and production have already reached unsustainable levels worldwide. “While production is expected to double in the next 20 years, waste generation and release of plastics will follow suit as the world will not be able to handle that amount. So the co chairs and proposed measures and targets for keeping the supply of primary plastic polymers within sustainable levels are needed to reduce plastic pollution.” said Erlend Arneson Haugen, Coordinator of the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution. 

In addition, it will be necessary to develop markets for non toxic secondary materials and measures to reduce production of plastic polymers which will also complement efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

These are some of the views expressed on Thursday, 16 March 2023 during a webinar that was organized to discuss the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution during which the Government of Rwanda, as the Co-Chair of the Coalition was invited to be part of the discussions that lasts about 1 hour.

The co chairs present possible options for the End plastics treaty. The first is a general obligation that each party should be required to take effective measures to reduce the production of primary plastic polymers to an agreed level to reach common targets. And these measures could be taxes, tariffs, fees, permits, licences, events and regulations and removal of subsidies. 

And secondly, on transparency. Each party should be required to report on the quantities and type of plastic polymers produced, as well as the quantities and types of chemicals in production. 

Photo taken at AGRO-PLAST Ltd

Many who have followed the issue of ending plastic waste for some time have noted that the scope of international discussions about plastic pollution has been expanded in important ways, since the resolution on marine litter and microplastics was adopted at the UN Environment assembly in 2014. 

For Juliet Kabera, the Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority, changing the scope of international discussions about plastic pollution is very much welcome. 

She said “for us it represents an evolution of our collective understanding of the scope of the problem and how to meaningfully address it.”

She also added that “It’s important to remind ourselves of the scope of the problem where Plastic consumption has quadrupled over the past 30 years.”

Ms. Juliet Kabera warned that “Without action, plastic pollution is set to double over the next 20 years and triple by 2060 which is clear that plastic production and consumption have reached unsustainable levels.”

She said It is no secret that countries are already failing to deal with plastic pollution and this failure to manage the situation will only make the work to protect human health and the planet much harder, if not impossible. 

“If you want to take a business as usual approach, plastic pollution would likely become an unattainable goal. Yet another planetary crisis, our generation, would have failed to address. That is why a timely and ambitious global plastic treaty, which is so critical, it will reduce current and future environmental damages,” Ms. Kabera said.

Plastic Pollution in Thailand, Shutterstock / Stephane Bidouze

According to Juliet Kabera the numbers do not lie. 

Since 1950,  9.2 billion tonnes of plastic wastes have been generated, out of which less than 10% have been recycled, around 15% has been incinerated with the other 76% being disposed of in landfills or released into the environment.

“We have always maintained that the marine environment will never be protected from plastic pollution until all environments are protected from plastic pollution.” She said,

Many countries around the world including Rwanda have put in place measures to control plastic pollution.

Despite this, there is still the overwhelming tide of plastics due to the lack of control measures at the source of the problem. Thus, the problem and its solution is directly connected to unsustainable production and consumption of plastics.

“To find a sustainable long term solution, it is important for the international community to design a global plastic treaty with core obligations and control measures for each stage of the plastic lifecycle.” Ms. Kabera explained.

“Starting at the beginning and working our way down. This will be possible if the instrument includes measures on plastic production and consumption, one that is complemented by measures on product design and the waste management, basically a full lifecycle approach.” she added. 

Ms. Juliet Kabera, Director General of REMA

“For this reason, we need to treat it with complications and control measures at the upstream on plastic production. When plastic first comes into existence as a material. Firstly, we must have mandatory reporting on plastic production and consumption. It is often said that we cannot manage what we can’t measure. Secondly, we must eliminate from production those problematic polymers that are toxic or hazardous,” she said.

According to Ed Shepherd, Senior Global Sustainability Manager – Circular Economy, Unilever “If we want to end plastic pollution, the treaty must therefore deliver a reduction of plastic production and use through a circular economy approach, focusing on those plastics that are short lived and made using fossil based virgin resources.”

He added that “Seeking to deliver sustainable business growth will remain a challenge if virgin plastic production and use continues unchecked.”

“We already have voluntary commitments in Syria. For example, Unilever has committed to have its use of virgin plastic by 2025. But it is clear that voluntary list initiatives alone will not go fast or far enough to solve the problem.” Mr. Shepherd said.

He explained that with the supply of virgin plastic set to double by 2040, policy interventions in the form of common globally binding control measures are required to level the playing field and align incentives towards the future that we want.

“On the most important upstream control measure, it’s really important to start with what’s practical, which is the elimination of certain problematic plastics. So the treaty must set a timeline for the phasing out of problematic plastic materials, components and additives that hinder progress towards a circular economy.” He added.

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