I am proud to work for a company that is taking action in the fight against single-use plastic. This has been through education at our recent Steppes Beyond festival at the Royal Geographical Society, and Steppes’ support of many local and global charities that are making a difference when it comes to plastic pollution.

This campaign has made me more personally aware of the global issue of recycling and especially single-use plastic, both at home and when I travel. During my recent trip to Rwanda and Uganda, I was keen to see how these countries, both of which have struggled with civil wars in the last few decades, have managed to develop and rebuild their countries and whether tackling plastic pollution is on their radar.

I started my trip in Kigali, Rwanda. I was immediately impressed by how clean the city was. Speaking with my local guide, he informed me that Rwanda had put to shame the likes of the UK in dealing with plastic pollution. In 2007, after San Francisco banned the use of plastic bags, Rwanda, banned both the use and manufacture of them in the entire country. As well as this, once a month, the whole country (including the country’s political leaders), takes part in Umuganda.

What is Umuganda?

Umuganda is a mandatory community work project that takes place on the last Saturday of every month in Rwanda. Every citizen between the ages of 18 and 65 (those above 65 are able to participate if they choose to) carries out community work, such as litter collection, in an effort to improve living conditions and increase tourism to the country.

From travelling around the country, it was very clear that Umuganda is working, and the world should learn from Rwanda and its policies relating to plastic pollution.

Leaving Rwanda behind me, I crossed the border in Uganda, where it was immediately evident that these neighbouring countries had very different policies in regard to keeping their country clean. However, I was pleased to see that one of the properties I stayed at, Kyambura Gorge Lodge, was thinking outside the box when it came to reusing single-use plastic.

The location of Kyambura Lodge is stunning, with sweeping views of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The gorge, famous for its chimpanzees, surrounds the property. Whilst staying here, I visited the Women’s Omwani Coffee Co-Operative. As with all Volcanoes Safaris lodges in both Rwanda and Uganda, Kyambura Gorge partners with a number of local community projects to help and develop the communities situated nearby. The Women’s Omwani Coffee Co-Operative was one of the 10 local community trusts linked to the lodge.

Who are the Women’s Omwani Coffee Cooperative?

Omwani is a community-based project, which has been designed to provide vocational training to local women from the region as an alternative and sustainable source of income. At least 30% of the women who are part of the initiative are HIV positive and many are also widowed. The members of the cooperative grow coffee organically, without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. The coffee is then prepared and sold to Volcanoes Safaris for use in their lodges throughout Uganda and Rwanda.

When the project started, the women had no way to package and distribute the ground coffee. They came up with the unique idea to wash and clean the small plastic water bottles used in Volcanoes Safaris’ lodges and put the coffee in these. This is still how they sell their coffee to people visiting the initiative. It is a clever way of reusing plastic bottles, and a practical way to keep ground coffee.

As I said before, I feel proud to work for a company that is opening my eyes to the issue of plastic pollution – an issue created by us. It is encouraging to learn that countries such as Rwanda are making huge steps to tackle this issue. It is inspiring to see how having a clean, plastic-free country not only provides environmental benefits but helps boost tourism.

Thanks for reading

Author: Lara Paxton