Thursday, May 6, 2010

Avalanche of non-biodegradable campaign trash

MOST OF US SHOULD NOW BE feeling suffocated, assaulted and violated by all the election campaign ads imposed on us. They appear non-stop on TV, radio, the Internet, cell phones, e-mail. They have congested the airwaves and Cyberspace. The streets are covered with campaign posters, banners and billboards. Wall space, posts, trees, railings, street dividers, electric and phone cables, the sky above and the earth below are filled with vote-for-me posters and hangings that could fall on you anytime.

On Wednesday, an electric post in Quezon City fell under the weight of campaign paraphernalia. In the area near the public school where my voting precinct is, there are now tens of thousands of hanging faces and names and the heavens around there have been obliterated from view.

Only in the Philippines. Only in the Philippines where this practice is prohibited (except in designated areas) is the law against it ignored and violated.

But there are places that are the exception. Several weeks ago, on the way back from a whale shark (butanding) interaction in Donsol, Sorsogon, the Inquirer Outdoors Club passed through Naga City. I saw how clean the environment was. There was no campaign poster in sight. If the law could be enforced there, why can’t the Comelec enforce it elsewhere? Here in Metro Manila, billboard anarchy rules.
Time was when campaign paraphernalia were made of biodegradable materials such as paper and cardboard that got washed away with the rain. Now they are made mostly of non-biodegradable materials such as plastic that can withstand the elements and remain in the environment for as long as many lifetimes. It’s an environmentalist’s nightmare.
Some weeks ago I passed by a city hall and saw a huge pile of tarps, posters, wood and bamboo frames that had been removed from areas where these were prohibited. Maybe those campaign paraphernalia were taken from just one small street and yet what a huge pile they made. After they were taken down, I’m sure replacements were put up right away. How many times have I taken down the posters nailed on the electric post in front of my gate? The next morning another candidate’s face occupies the vacant space.
So what’s new? Many elected candidates, hoping to get re-elected, deface the environment all year round with their self-serving announcements (“Congratulations, graduates”, “Happy Fiesta”) and to trumpet their good deeds (“libreng tule” or free circumcision, etc.).

Think of the whole metropolis being cleaned up after the elections. Think of the clean-up in your own little city or town. Where will all these non-biodegradable campaign debris go?

Even wrap artist Christo (world famous for wrapping huge structures such as the Reichstag in Berlin, the Pont-Neuf bridge in Paris and many other famous structures), if presented with all the campaign tarps after the elections, would have so much wrapping material in his hands that he wouldn’t know what to do with them. If all these debris were to be sewn together, they’d probably be enough to cover the Philippine archipelago.

So, has anyone thought of a way of disposing them? Does the Department of Environment and Natural Resources even care while its former head is now running for mayor?

But there is probably just too much for recycling and reusing. How many thousands of recycled bags would one want to make from them, non-biodegradable bags that will also eventually have to be disposed of?

Anticipating a deadly avalanche of post-election garbage, the EcoWaste Coalition and the Miss Earth Foundation have raised the alarm and are seeking public cooperation in keeping the campaign discards out of dumps and landfills. Miss Earth Philippines and her court joined zero-waste advocates in averting a garbage crisis through the 3 Rs: repurpose, recycle, reuse.

The zero-waste advocates want to make it clear that it is not enough that the posters and banners are removed without delay after election day. It is also imperative that these materials are not burned or hauled to the dumps which cannot take anymore dumping.

As a long-term measure, the green advocates are calling on the Comelec to review the election laws to see how they impact on the environment especially during the campaign. Indeed, the biggest defilers of the environment are the candidates. Will they even care to clean up? If they will, where will they dump their toxic garbage?

Here are short-term solutions for now even as we search for better ones. From zero-waste advocates, here are some green suggestions on what to make using campaign tarps:

• bags for shopping, beach use or relief goods
• place mats, coasters, table covers, refrigerator runners, seat covers and wallets
• functional holders for slippers, shoes and small umbrellas
• aprons for fish and meat vendors
• sacks for segregating recyclable materials such as paper, bottle, plastic, etc.
lona for outdoor meetings and occasions (like All Soul’s Day at the cemetery)
• window awnings and canopies for homes, shops, offices and pets to block the sun and rain
• tricycle and jeepney upholstery
• roofing and sleeping mats for street dwellers
• picnic or activity mats for you and me

Be an eco-entrepreneur and sing to the tune of a campaign jingle, “Kumikita ka na ba sa eleksyon basura?” Sell recyclable campaign discards to junk shops. Here are the buying rates for some stuff: plastic posters (P8/kg), paper posters (P1/kg), cardboard (P1/kg ), sample ballots (brown—P2/kg, white—P10-12.50/kg), assorted paper (P2/kg), wire (P2/kg).

And someone please do a Christo.