There's no longer any question about "paper or plastic?" in Rwanda. In 2008, the African nation actually did something about the worldwide proliferation of plastic bags and banned them entirely. The country hopes to eliminate all plastic waste by 2020 and is leading the way towards sustainability.
The Rwandan government is serious about this. At Kigali International Airport, for example, a sign warns visitors that plastic bags will be confiscated. However, there are still people who try to smuggle plastic bags into the country, and a black market has developed for the banned bags.
The perils of plastic:
- Stores in the United States started to use plastic shopping bags in the late 1970s. Recycling of plastic bags began in 1990, but more than 1 billion single-use plastic bags are still given out every day.
- Plastic bags never biodegrade, but they do break down eventually. Toxic additives – flame retardants, antimicrobials and plasticizers – can disrupt the endocrine system of humans and animals.
- In marine environments, animals can confuse the plastic for food. Based on a study of more than 370 autopsies, one in three leatherback sea turtles has plastic in its stomach, most often a plastic bag.