KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 17 — With just two days to polling, flag and poster wars have taken an aggressive turn, though the writing on the wall is not clear as to which political party will finally get the mandate.
Giant billboards, colourful party flags as well as banners of contesting candidates are lining up the streets, roadsides, premises and residential areas to attract voters.
Vehicles of candidates’ election machinery are occasionally making their rounds in these areas with their loud speakers. Candidates are also hitting the campaign trail at public markets, restaurants and business premises by introducing themselves and distributing posters and flyers of their bio-data and party manifesto.
During a random check by Bernama, most of the political parties including independent candidates admitted they incurred huge expenses, among others on printing posters, flyers, banners and flags as well as campaign materials.
Amid the cacophony of posters which only takes place once in five years, what becomes of these materials after the euphoria ends, especially post GE-15?
Increase in general waste
In the GE14, general waste collection in May 2018 rose to 269,042 tonnes from 250,266 tonnes in April during the same year, according to landfill operator Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp) in its 2018 annual report.
This was evident after the end of any elections as most campaign materials used were only for short-term.
DAP election machinery manager for Kepong parliamentary constituency, Lai Chun Chian said about 5,000 posters and manifesto flyers were distributed to voters during walkabouts and ceramahs by candidates.
“On top of expenses for campaign materials, we are also required to pay deposits to SPR (Election Commission) for display at public places. For example, deposits on billboard posters that are extensively damaged or destroyed may not be refunded,” he told Bernama.
The Election Offences Act 1954 Section 24B (4) states that “a candidate or his election agent may, during the campaign period, display, furnish or distribute election campaign materials to members of the public in the constituency in which the candidate seeks election but only if he has paid to the State Elections Officer.”
The Election Commission (EC) or SPR imposes a RM5,000 deposit for campaign materials on parliamentary candidates and RM3,000 for state candidates.
According to Lai, his party would usually collect campaign materials that are displayed at campaign areas and store them for use in the next election or party election.
“For damaged campaign materials such as due to vandalism, we are forced to send them off to waste disposal sites, but those that are still in good condition but not long-lasting, will be sent for recycling,” he said.
Contribution and recycling
A Barisan Nasional (BN) election machinery volunteer for Cheras parliamentary constituency, Nick Sim, 31, said not all campaign materials will end up at the waste disposal site and recycling centres.
“For clothes bearing the names of candidates, we would donate to the needy such as homeless people and charitable homes for personal use or for other purposes.
“For banners, there are traders who sought our permission to use them as shades to block out the blazing afternoon sun during the campaign period,” he added.
Rodziah Norsham, who operates a hot food stall in Puchong, Selangor, said that banners for GE15 are recycleable especially to protect from sun glare.
“Shields for stalls are rather expensive… there’s nothing wrong in using banners that are no longer used as protection from the sun for my stall,” she added.
“Besides, I used to ask for ad banners that were dismantled by local enforcement personnel for use as table covers,” she said.
On the other hand, Fatimah Othman, 62, enjoys collecting posters of contesting candidates to cover glass windows of her house from the scorching sun during the day.
“GE candidates and their machinery are usually generous to distribute leaflets and posters at markets and food stalls. I would usually request for more whenever I get them,” she said.
“What I would do is to gather all these materials from various parties and use them as sun shields on my house windows to prevent outsiders from peeking through, “said the senior citizen, who will be casting her vote in Kepong.
Zero Waste Malaysia (ZWM) co-founder and director, Khor Sue Yee said the best way to reduce the election waste is to reuse those materials later.
“There are two kinds of materials we often see during the election campaigns — general media materials and new ones.
“General ones include the flags of political parties and posters of familiar candidates. If we look around, most of the materials that are put up on the streets are the flags of parties — which have not changed for years,” she noted.
Enforcement to reduce campaign materials
She said the government can enact a strict law to reduce the amount of unnecessary flags, banners and posters seen on public premises.
Taking India as an example, Khor said the government has enforced a law in 2008 which states that political flags can only be put up on private property with consent from the owners.
“”There are limitations, with only three flags allowed for use at the residence of party supporters or workers. Creating such policies also proves commitment towards green goals and of maintaining a green Malaysia,” she added.
Khor said the fabric material is one of the hardest to recycle — it simply gets reused for other purposes or moves from owner to owner.
“If they can’t kept for future campaigns, we need to get creative by upcycling them into reusable bags to be donated to local stores for use by customers instead of single use plastic bags, or they can be sewn into rags for cleaning,” she said.
The power of social media
Khor said living in the digital era allows the information to be presented on a website to reduce the printing of papers.
In fact, the candidates can use the power of social media to present their message in a creative way, such as videos and interactive infographics, she said.
“Forward planning is important, instead of printing the physical campaign materials, perhaps a QR code can be used for individuals to scan.
“Handing out thousands of flyers should be minimised. We live in a digital era where almost everyone has a smart phone to scan a QR code,” she added.