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There’s money in used election materials

Members of EcoWaste Coalition show the various products made from tarpaulins used during the elections.

After the challenge of picking the right candidates for various national and local positions ended on May 9, the Philippines is now faced with an equally difficult challenge: how to dispose of the tons of materials produced during the elections.

Posters and streamers made of tarpaulin, leaflets, flyers, comics, sample ballots and other campaign collaterals like ballers and fans were everywhere. Eventually, they will all end up in trash cans further aggravating the problem of proper waste disposal.

The Philippines generates around 59,846 tons of waste per day, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The huge volume of waste goes up every time there’s a huge event like the annual religious pilgrimages during the Holy Week, visits to public and private cemeteries during All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, Christmas and New Year celebrations, and the national and local elections held every three years.

During the 2016 mid-term election, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) reported having hauled more than 30 truckloads of post-election garbage.

Digitized election

Over the years, the volume of garbage produced by candidates, including papers for their posters, single-use plastic for flaglets flags and small banners; cloth for huge streamers, have been rendered obsolete by tarpaulins.

“Digitization of the election results in lesser garbage year after year,” said Crispian Lao, vice chairman of the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC), told the BusinessMirror during a telephone interview on May 11.

Lao said that in the earlier elections the streets of Metro Manila were flooded with campaign materials, including sample ballots, after elections.

“Now, we see less and less of these kinds of garbage because of the prohibition of their distribution in polling precincts during elections,” said Lao, who represents the private sector in NSWMC.

Bad news for the environment

Tarpaulin, or tarp, a large sheet of strong, flexible, water-resistant material, such as cloth or polyester coated with polyurethane, or made of plastics, such as polyethylene, are currently often used by businesses to advertise their products.

Because it is tough and durable, and now very affordable, politicians have now been using tarp for their election propaganda.

Undersecretary Jonas R. Leones of the DENR‘s Policy, Planning and International Affairs observed that this year’s election was particularly special due to the increased number of voters, as well as candidates.

Tarpaulin, however, is bad news for the environment, especially if they are produced in volumes and are not properly disposed of.

Leones said it contains toxic chemicals, and the paint used is equally deadly.

“Tarpaulins are temporary [election] campaign materials. So if they end up in landfills, they become residual waste. If they end up in water bodies, they cause pollution and cause flooding,” Leones added.

Biggest in history

The May 9 elections had the highest number of candidates. Besides the president and vice president, up for grabs were 12 seats for the Senate; 316 seats for the House of Representatives; 81 governors and vice governors; 782 seats for the provincial boards; 146 seats for both city mayors and vice mayors; and 1,650 seats for city councils; and 1,488 both for municipal mayors and vice mayors plus the 11,908 seats for municipal councils in all the municipalities.

For the two highest positions in the country alone, 10 vied for president and nine for vice president, which required thousands of kilograms of tarpaulins to generate awareness about their candidacies.

“Politicians were heavily invested to advertise themselves to get elected,” Leones told the BusinessMirror in a telephone interview on May 11. “Then we also have the election for seats for party lists,” he added.

Good news for recyclers

The good news is that tarpaulin is a recyclable, reused and repurposed material. There’s no need for it to go directly to the sanitary landfill or end up clogging canals and waterways. People can make money out of it.

Lao and Leones said the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is doing right in recycling tarpaulins and other post-election garbage to drastically cut down the volume of waste generated in the elections.

“There are organizations that make bags out of tarpaulins,” Lao said.

He added that there are many ways to use tarpaulin at home and can also be used as fuel, or material to make cement, Leones said.

‘Cleanup your mess’

Lao and Leones said the local government units helped a lot by being responsible enough to remove the campaign materials and think of ways of how to properly disposed of them.

Two days after the election, zero-waste-advocacy organizations, have pitched for the safe reusing and repurposing of campaign materials.

In a news release, the EcoWaste Coalition appealed to both winning and losing candidates to take the lead in cleaning up their mess.

Proper disposal

The group said politicians are supposed to prevent their campaign materials from being thrown around dumped in the oceans of burned.  “Regardless of your poll standing, we appeal to all candidates to exemplify your concern for Mother Earth and for public welfare by finding ways to prevent your publicity materials from ending up in waste dumps and furnaces and, God forbid, the oceans,” Aileen Lucero, national coordinator of EcoWaste Coalition.

For her part, Miss Philippines Earth 2021 Naelah Alshorbaji said: „Happy or not with the outcome [of the elections], it remains our responsibility to clean up after ourselves and to do due diligence: recycling and upcycling where possible. Give a second life to durable materials used, and responsibly dispose of non-useable items as per your local waste management rules.“

Alshorbaji likewise reminded everyone not to burn any item because it contributes to the emission of toxic chemicals, which are hazardous to health.

The call was made during an event in Quezon City that was attended by the MMDA led by Director Francis Martinez.

The group showed how paper-based campaign materials can be creatively reused or repurposed. Sample ballots were turned into notepads with the use of a binding glue, fastener, ribbon or string.

Cardboard posters were cut to make bookmarks, envelopes, folders, nameplates and other school needs.

Polyethylene plastic posters were reused as book and notebook covers, and the sturdier polyvinyl chloride tarpaulin posters were cut and sewn into bags of various sizes.

Tarpaulins were also made into bags, shoe, shoulder, laundry and toiletry bags, as well as waist bags for electricians and janitors.

They were also transformed into aprons, letter and tool organizers, and waste sorters.

Tarps can also be repurposed as awnings or canopies for homes and stores, upholstery material, and as a protective shield against sun and rain for jeepneys, pedicabs and tricycles, the group said.

However, the EcoWaste Coalition advised the public to only reuse or repurpose tarps for non-food and non-child applications as tarps may contain hazardous chemicals, particularly cadmium and phthalates, leaching and contaminating the food or expose children to chemical risks.
To make the reusing or repurposing of campaign materials easier, the group reiterated its plea to prohibit the use of cadmium, phthalates, and other toxic chemical additives in plastics, and for the authorities to require the use of recyclable, non-toxic campaign materials in future elections.

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