Today is World Environment Day, and nations and people around the world are urged to beat plastic pollution. As Europe and some parts of the US are beginning their journey to be plastic-free, one country in Africa shows us how this can be done.
About one month ago I had a chance to visit Rwanda – a small African nation perhaps best known for its spectacular wildlife and its troubled past. A decade ago, Rwanda made an unprecedented step to ban plastic bags, which are an eyesore in many parts of Africa and other parts of the world, and have become a major source of land-based pollution of our times.
The result is obvious today on the streets of Kigali—one of the cleanest cities I have visited anywhere around the globe. With creativity unleashed, plastic bags have been replaced with colourful baskets, wrapped up pieces of cloth, and other imaginative ways of fetching goods from A to B. This proves that we can definitely ditch plastic bags for good, even though plastic bottles and straws are still being used in the Rwandan capital, although the boutique Heaven Rwanda hotel where I stayed thoughtfully provided guests with filtered water in recycled wine bottles.
Tragically, Rwanda is also a country synonymous with the 1994 genocide, and visiting the Genocide Memorial in Kigali was a harrowing experience for me. But I was also incredibly impressed by the resilience of the Rwandan people in overcoming this tragedy, rebuilding their lives and their country, and taking the lead in sustainability matters.
One sustainable luxury brand, UK-based Eden Diodati, empowers women who survived the Rwandan genocide by employing their skill, courage, fortitude and faith in developing high-end jewellery and preserving centuries-old artisanal heritage and craftsmanship. The brand also donates 10% of dividends to Médecins sans Frontières, which addresses emergencies on a global scale.
As we mark this year’s World Environment Day, let us remember that our past must not define our future. Beating plastic is just the start.