THE BLOG

Taxing Plastic Bags Is a Step in the Right Direction

03/10/2013 14:26 BST | Updated 03/12/2013 10:12 GMT

Wherever you go in the world, plastic bags appear as a terrible blight on the landscape.

Too many cities and too much of the countryside is disfigured by millions of discarded bags.

Seas, lakes and rivers are almost permanently polluted by plastic which can take a thousand years to decompose.

Plastic bags are not just unsightly. They come with real environmental costs. They cause widespread deaths among both wild and domestic animals. They have long term impact on the rich biodiversity living in the world's aquatic ecosystems.

By clogging drains, they have been directly responsible for terrible floods in developing countries. And, of course, they use scarce resources in their manufacture, which helps contribute to climate change.

It is why, increasingly, cities and countries across the world are acting to limit their use - a step which, I am pleased to see, is now going to be followed in England with a tax on plastic bags.

Rwanda, however, has gone further by imposing an outright ban, and the impact has been dramatic. It has played a major part in Kigali, our capital, being declared one of the cleanest in Africa by UN Habitat.

Implementing the ban was not easy. Plastic bags were just as much a fact of life in our country as in the UK.

Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Waste and pollution had become an increasing problem. Cows and goats were dying, and lives had been lost in the floods exacerbated by clogged up drains.

As we rebuilt our country after the devastating genocide, we made protecting our remarkable environment a priority.

In 2008, after a major campaign in our schools and communities to explain why action was necessary, an outright ban on plastic bags was introduced.

The result is that our citizens now see this initiative as their own and are proud to be leading the world in action against this environmental scourge.

Living without plastic bags can be challenging in the beginning, even for someone like me who works everyday on ways to safeguard Rwanda's environment. But adapting doesn't take very long, especially as alternatives are becoming increasingly available.

In the early days of the ban, tourists, diplomats and investors arriving in our country were given a gift of cotton bags made by Rwandans to underline the point.

Rwanda is not the only country that has implemented a ban. Other developing nations such as Bangladesh and China have also taken decisive action.

We can perhaps see the impact plastic bags have on our lives more directly than governments and citizens in nations in Europe or North America.

However, just because you can't see those plastic bags hiding in the cupboard under the sink, in a bin or buried in a landfill, it doesn't mean the problem has gone away.

No matter how developed your economy and society, plastic is a real cause of concern.

So while I am sure that there will be controversy and resistance in England to the introduction of a tax on plastic bags, I hope you see it as just a first step to reducing their use.