Plastic bag recycling – a solution to silent killers

In 2010 a social entrepreneur Wenceslas Habamungu started a plastic recycling company - Rwanda Ecoplastic . The idea came after realizing that the plastic bags waste could not be reused, and he started collecting all scattered plastic bags in various places to be recycled.

“We pay anyone who brings plastic bags to encourage the faster collection, and nowadays it is very hard to find plastic bags dispersed everywhere, people now see them as another way of making money ”, said Wenceslas Habamungu, the Ecoplastic plant manager.

Although there is a ban in place, there are some special cases whereby plastic bags have to be used, for example in hospitals, serums have to packed in plastic bags, agriculture tubing bags are very crucial for the growing of crops, some industries use chemicals that have to be kept in plastic bags for safety issues, etc. Rwanda Ecoplastic has partnerships with various industries and hospitals that allows them to collect all their plastic waste. The Rwanda Environment and Management (REMA) has set up a monitoring system to control the quantity of plastic bags imported by allowed factories and hospitals, and Rwanda Ecoplastic must give reports to REMA, who later checks whether the collected quantity of plastic bags matches with the quantity imported. The recycling process normally starts with putting together bags from the same plastic category, washing, and drying them then they recycle the bags using high temperature machines, producing polyethylene that is kept and can be used at any time, once there is a demand to manufacture a certain type of plastic material. 

Washed plastic bags being dried  

Types of manufactured plastics after recycling

Rwanda Ecoplastic manufactures various plastics such as:

  • Dustbin bags used while collecting waste,
  • Impermeable bags used in medical area,
  • Tubing bags used duplication of different crops,
  • Sheetings used in building roofs,
  • Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS), a hermetic bag used for storing food for a long time; etc

What is PICS?

Rwanda Ecoplastic in partnership with Purdue University, the later agreed to transfer its PICS technology to allow the manufacturer to use it. PICS is a hermetic bag that allows its user to avoid fungal growth and aflatoxin contamination of the harvest mainly grains, PICS has three layers, these layers prevent the oxygen inflow and the leak of dioxide carbon, which gives it a capacity to store for more than three years without losing the quality of stored crops. PICS has been a very successful storage bag, especially in Africa which is in a very sunny region and has not acquired latest storing technologies yet.

Plastic bags threats

Water polluted by plastic bags 

Earth Policy Institute statistics states that almost a trillion plastic bags are used every year in the world and they are contributing to ecosystem pollution. Plastic bags are not biodegradable and take many years to decompose. 

According to the BBC plastic bags are also a threat to animals, more than 70% of cattle and sheep that die in the capital of Mauritania, Nouakchott, are killed by eating plastic bags. When plastics are thrown in oceans that have been used to carry food, marine animals are attracted to eat the food and end up eating plastic, and also getting entangled in the plastic, which most of the time leads to death. Also when fish consume small plastics with toxins, they might not die, but this toxin is later consumed by human beings.

Rwanda is progressing well in environmental management and does not hesitate in making tough decisions such as banning plastic bags. Recycling is one of the long term solutions and the government of Rwanda encourages such cleanleaps through providing tax incentives on the importation of recycling machines to drive investment, to help the country to reach its vision 2020 to be the cleanest country in the world, and help create jobs in waste management.