It’s time for a cleanup after the bruising elections, not just of the emotional wounds inflicted on the candidates and their supporters but of the physical remains of the campaign.
The cleanup, said the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), should be the first order of business after every election and candidates themselves must take the initiative to remove their campaign materials and dispose of them properly. Jay Lim of the environmental advocacy group Tanggol Kalikasan said the urgent challenge after elections is always how to get rid of voluminous campaign materials that only worsen the country’s existing waste problem.
In the 2019 midterm elections, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said it collected 29 truckloads equivalent to 200.37 tons of campaign-generated waste. More garbage is expected to be collected this year with 19 candidates in the highly contested presidential and vice presidential races on top of other national and local posts. A cleanup drive by environment group EcoWaste Coalition already yielded 71 truckloads or about 252 tons of election garbage only two days after last Monday’s elections.
While TV advertisements take up the bulk of campaign expenses and even as social media campaigns have increasingly become the norm, political parties and individual candidates still allot a substantial budget for collaterals such as tarpaulins, posters, flyers, stickers, and other similar campaign materials for those who do not have access to these platforms. Most of the election waste end up as junk that could clog canals and waterways and cause floods, or fill garbage dumps for years if they are made of non-biodegradable materials. “The single-use plastic waste generated during the campaign causes choking of drainage, ingestion by stray animals, land and water pollution, thereby causing adverse impact on human health and the environment,” said Mark Peñalver, executive director of Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability.
As early as October last year, several environmental groups appealed to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to initiate pro-environment measures in the 2022 elections. EcoWaste Coalition said the Comelec should champion much-needed policies and practices to minimize garbage and plastic pollution during campaign and election periods. “We have also observed the rampant use of campaign materials that are hardly reused or recycled, particularly plastic tarpaulins, posters and buntings, as well as the confetti thrown in miting de avance,” said the groups that also included Greenpeace Philippines, Mother Earth Foundation, Zero Waste Philippines, Oceana Philippines, and NASSA/Caritas Philippines. They asked the Comelec to make it mandatory for parties and candidates to use recyclable and reusable materials free of hazardous chemical substances, and to conduct a compulsory post-election cleanup.
But there is no lack of such policies or the need to come up with new ones. In 2013, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, DILG, and Comelec already signed a joint memorandum circular that enjoined political parties and candidates to put up campaign materials only in common areas to avoid eyesores and minimize waste generation, and steer clear of hazardous materials in their campaign and election propaganda.
Aside from existing government policies, environmental groups have also reached out to help. The EcoWaste Coalition is working with MMDA in the “Oplan Baklas 2022” cleanup drive, funded by the World Bank, which aims to collect election paraphernalia and other junk, bring them to sanitary landfills, and then sort them out. Tarpaulins and plastic waste will be processed in a waste granulator into ecobricks, which will then be used in the rehabilitation of sidewalks and parks in Metro Manila; some of the tarpaulins will also be turned over to EcoWaste to be made into ecobags.
In Benguet, a resident has launched the “Eco-tarp Recycling Challenge” calling on neighbors to collect and reuse discarded campaign materials such as tarpaulins and turn them into items like decorative flowers. Limkaco, a leading manufacturer of signage products, has also suggested several ways to reuse tarpaulins such as upcycling them into raised garden beds, sunshades and tents, beanbags, and mixed-use bags.
Indeed, there are enough policies to promote environment-friendly elections just as there are varied ways to reuse campaign materials so they won’t end up as harmful waste. It’s all but a matter of implementation and political will. The newly elected leaders have a lot of challenges to tackle as they begin their terms, but first they must do their part in cleaning up their campaign mess.
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