Before the High Court banned laminated posters in city corporation election campaigns on Wednesday, the election runners had already wrapped their posters with plastics enough to cover the area stretching over New Market, Dhanmondi, Shankar and Mohammadpur.
Laminated posters hanging from ropes blocked the view of sky at almost every important places in the capital with authorities having no mechanism to dispose of such a huge amount of plastics.
The city corporations said that they do not have a budget to clear wastes generated by election campaigns and that they would have to burn them eventually.
The city corporations usually clear election wastes with its cleaners taking down campaign materials pasted on walls, hung from poles after election and dump most of them in the sewer.
‘We would have to dump these plastics in landfills and burn them eventually,’ said Dhaka South City Corporation chief waste management officer Air Commodore Zahid Hossain.
A former Dhaka North City Corporation chief waste management officer said that their cleaners always found it convenient to dump election wastes mostly in the sewer in absence of a proper disposal mechanism.
But this year election wastes disposal would be particularly challenging because of widespread use of plastics in campaigns materials such as posters, he said.
Burning of plastics pollutes air with toxic fumes which increases the risks of heart diseases, respiratory problems and also affects functioning of the nervous system.
Plastic burning also releases black carbon and contributes to climate change.
But almost all the 778 candidates competing to become the next leaders of Dhaka’s two city corporations used polythene in order to save their paper posters from winter mists.
This year the candidates in their declarations to the Election Commission mentioned about printing more than one crore posters for their election campaigns.
But printing press owners said that they produced at least five times than the declared number of posters just like any other elections.
A poster measuring 18/23 inches cost between Tk 1.80 and Tk 2.50 depending on the paper used, said printing press owners.
The candidates were spending an additional Tk 3.50 on average to protect each paper poster with plastic lamination.
Getting an accurate estimation of the volume of plastics used in laminating posters is difficult. But green campaigners found a way of making an ‘educated guess’ about it.
‘Laminating a single poster being used in the ongoing election campaigns would need 6 square feet of plastics,’ said renewable energy researcher Mahbub Sumon.
It would be a conservative estimate to say that candidates already used six crore square feet of plastics in laminating posters, which is enough to cover the entire area from New Market to Mohammadpur.
He said that plastics used in laminating posters are single-use plastics meant to be thrown away immediately after the elections.
The single-use thin, transparent plastics would break down into smaller microplastics and then nanoplastics to stay in the environment for centuries, he said.
United Nations Environment Programme said that some single use plastics might stay one thousand years in the environment as their disposal is very difficult.
Dhaka University’s department of geography and environment professor Humayun Kabir said that plastic fragments or particles settled in soil would affect its fertility.
Some of it would find its way to food chain through fishes consuming nanoplastics mixed with water, he said.
‘The plastics would find their way everywhere from clogging city drains to poisoning food chain,’ said Humayun.
Election campaigns are strictly regulated in developed countries like France and Belgium where candidates have a fixed area for displaying their posters and other campaign materials.
In the USA, candidates use their supporters’ property such as lawns for displaying their posters and dispose it on their own after elections.
Environmental concerns have prompted other countries to be innovative in election campaigns like holding public debates or having dialogues with voters or using social media tools.
‘The city corporation candidates should not have been so insensitive to the environment. We call on them to stop using laminated posters,’ said Abul Kashem, returning officer, Dhaka North City Corporation.
‘This is simply uncivil of candidates to fill every corner of the city with their posters,’ said Sushashoner Jonno Nagorik secretary Badiul Alam Majumder.
‘This is an insult to public intelligence. The candidates are unwittingly saying us that they don’t care about anything at all,’ he said.
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