Africa

Rwanda’s circular economy plan

By Jeremy Williams

Rwanda is a true sustainability leader – see the Kigali accord that regulated greenhouse gases from refrigerants, and the plastic treaty proposed with Peru earlier this year. Last week Rwanda hosted the World Circular Economy Forum, and at the event, they launched their first national action plan for a circular economy.

If you’ll excuse a little policy wonkery, it’s worth looking at the plan and what it contains. What is Rwanda planning? How are they adapting circular economy principles to their specific context? And is there anything we can learn?

The overall vision is that “by 2035, the economy of Rwanda is envisioned to have placed the circular economy at the core of economic decision making and practice, ensuring the retention of resources, eliminating waste and pollution while regenerating natural systems”.

In pursuit of that vision, the plan has 17 new policies across four priority sectors:

Waste – there will be major investments in waste collection and sorting, including measures that will improve the lives of informal waste pickers. The plan also includes standards for data collection, so that progress can be measured and assessed. Organic waste will be processed for fertiliser.

Construction – a new building code will prioritise sustainable building materials, including local and recyclable materials. Demolition waste will be reused. I was pleased to see compressed earth construction mentioned as a low-impact and locally relevant technique. Traditional techniques are easy to overlook as old-fashioned, but there are often modern variations on them that can be incorporated into high-quality buildings.

Agriculture – 70% of Rwandans work in agriculture, and so this is where the plan will affect the most people. The vision is to shift towards regenerative agricultural practices, encouraging farmers to use agroforestry techniques and to find new uses for post-harvest waste, such as biogas. Organic fertilisers will be subsidised to reduce dependence on imported chemical fertilisers. Local production is a priority, with a national plan for urban agriculture. As many small farms are isolated and vulnerable, the plan recommends merging into community farms and farmer-owned cooperatives to allow for economies of scale.

Water – there will be substantial investment in wastewater treatment in urban areas. Grey water recycling will be encouraged in larger buildings under construction, and also retrofitted where appropriate. Where possible, these should be organic and nature-based grey water treatments. ‘Polluter pays’ principles will ensure that industry takes responsibility for wastewater rather than releasing it into the environment.

As well as policies in these four sectors, there are others looking at embedding circular economy principles across the country. They include a mandatory module on the topic for all primary and secondary schools and universities, ensuring that young people understand it. Vocational courses will help everyone else to catch up. As one might expect from the country with the highest number of women in government, the plan specifically mentions opportunities for women entrepreneurs and young people. A circular economy hub and agency will help to build partnerships across the public and private sectors.

First published in The Earthbound Report.

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