With the Dhaka City Corporation election ready to roll out next month, the capital is brimming with a palpable air of electoral mood. From door-to-door canvassing to microphones blaring the theme songs of the latest municipal polls of Dhaka, the promotional preparations have left no stone unturned to capture the attention of the residents. The most eye-catching of them all, however, is the festoons of posters all over the city bearing the faces of the candidates, urging the public to vote for them.
This brazen exhibition of such resource wastage not just distorts the aesthetic quality of the areas, but falls heavy on the environment. Tons of paper is wasted during such elections for this publicity stunt, with no one to bear its liability and neither is there any standard practice of recycling them. This time, the question of recyclability does not even arise since the campaign designers have taken it one step further and laminated the papers with a plastic covering to protect them from humidity and rainwater. They have found a way of tweaking the electoral code of conduct for the upcoming municipal polls—which prohibits candidates from sticking their posters, leaflets or handbills on public places such as walls, electric pillars, fences, etc—by hanging the posters on strings and wires across city streets.
“It’s not just paper waste that we are dealing with anymore, it’s also plastic waste. These are also creating a fire hazard. In some areas, they are hung in high density near the electric cables so a safety and security issue arise here as well,” says Nooha Maula, a concerned citizen.
The situation is made dire by the fact that those who the voters are supposed to entrust with the responsibility of protecting the city are the ones violating their duties towards it. “The ones who are supposed to provide the solution are in fact adding more to the problem,” adds Nowsheen Sharmilla, a resident of Baridhara.
The constituencies want to see responsibility on the part of the candidates—someone who is aware of the environmental repercussions that such paper and plastic wastage would cause. The fact that they are willing to dismiss the environment as a stakeholder even before they are elected reflects their priorities clearly. With the ongoing infrastructural changes that are already putting stress on the environment, all these campaign paraphernalia will only catalyse the damage.
According to Rezwan Ahmed, a student residing in Mohammadpur, “The paper usage here seems redundant. They are constantly using megaphones and other media outlets that involve visual and auditory means.” He further went on to argue how if these posters are a means to appeal mostly to an illiterate base, then it still does not make sense as most of them cannot read what is written on them.
The only function of the posters is to signal to voters who to vote for—displaying said candidate’s name, picture and the alliance they belong to—but these carry very little to no necessary information about why they are worthy of the vote. Hundreds of thousands of papers have been printed only with this limited information and then laminated with plastic to be hung over the city-streets for weeks leading up to the election, only to ultimately end up in the dumping grounds and yet no one is held accountable for this epic proportion of wastage. The entire democratic process of choosing the candidate you think is worthy of the particular position gets diminished to just a gimmicky exercise of face recognition and face recall as far as the agenda of the posters go.
They are a promotional tool formulated with the concept of repetition and this city-wide proliferation is an insult to the intelligence of the general public. According to waste management specialists, such traditional campaign materials such as posters and bunting may have been significant in the past, but their usage should now be curbed given how easily the internet, newspapers and mass media can be used to disseminate information. The concept of e-elections might be far-fetched but it is high time that politicians and campaign runners think about better alternatives that involve technology and not paper or plastic wastage, aligning with the principles of Digital Bangladesh.
The ironic footnote that can be added here is that only a week after the High Court directive of the country-wide ban of single-use plastic products in coastal areas, hotels and restaurants to be implemented within a year was announced, the roads were covered with plastic coated posters of “promising candidates” which fall under the category of single-use plastic according to Wikipedia. In the name of promotion, they are willing to leave behind plastic waste, the lifetime of which would exceed that of the candidates themselves, let alone the length of their office tenure. They need to stop looking at everything through their myopic lenses and hold themselves accountable for the ripple effects of their activities.
Barrister Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, a mayoral candidate for the DSCC, when contacted by The Daily Star, went on to say that there was no such prohibition on the usage of laminated posters from the Election Commission and further added as some sort of self-justification that he would remove all the posters at his own cost, post-election. The damage, though, that has been caused already is irreparable. All these unrecyclable plastic posters would aggravate waterlogging during the coming monsoon and accumulate in the landfills. Not to mention the amount of greenhouse gas that has already been released during the process of lamination.
As for the latest update on this story, the HC has banned the production and display of these laminated posters which could be seen as a wise step taken too late. Yet it is laudable, given the utter disregard of the candidates for the environment and our own lethargic passivity. It is indeed sardonic that the candidates who have made promises of protecting the environment have ensured a way of further damaging it. Sadly, this time, we had to bear witness to how safeguarding posters from damage takes precedence over safeguarding the environment. Hopefully, things will be different next time.
Iqra L Qamari is a contributor to The Daily Star.