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In Dhaka's mayoral election, environmental promises undermined by plastic campaign posters

Dhaka is now a city of posters. Photo by Sanim Haque. Used with permission.

Dhaka is now a city of posters. Photo by Sanim Haque. Used with permission.

Polls are set to open on 1 February 2020 when voters from Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, will choose two mayors for the Dhaka North City Corporation and the Dhaka South City Corporation. Candidates are in the last phase of their campaigns with mayoral hopefuls pitching plans for development that is both modern and environmentally friendly. Campaign promises focusing on the environment have come to the forefront as Dhaka continues to top the list of the most polluted cities in the world with many people dying each year from diseases directly linked to pollution.

With limited resources, tackling increasing urban waste is a challenge for any mayor in Dhaka. However, despite candidate promises, the sincerity of their environmental aspirations was called into question after almost all the 778 candidates plastered Dhaka's streets with non-biodegradable plastic laminated election posters and banners.

This poses a serious threat to the environment as the city corporation bodies lack thorough mechanisms to dispose of plastic. A study by non-profit Waste Concern carried out in collaboration with the government’s Department of Environment, found that only 36 percent of the total plastic waste in the urban hubs of Bangladesh was recycled in the informal sector while 39 percent were dumped in landfills and 25 percent polluted the earth and water sources.

On social media, many people expressed concern over the impact of the posters on the environment with many fearing that they will clog drains and swamp the city in the garbage.

Human rights activist Mahmudul Hasan expressed frustration on Facebook:

উন্নত বিশ্ব যখন পরিবেশ রক্ষায় বিলিয়ন বিলিয়ন ডলার খরচ করছে তখন আমাদের শহর পরিবেশের জন্য অতিব ক্ষতিকারক লক্ষ লক্ষ পলিথিনের পোস্টার দিয়ে ছেয়ে ফেলা হয়েছে। এইসব পোস্টার যারা ঝুলিয়েছে তাদের ভোট দেয়া তো দুরের কথা তাদের প্রত্যেকের নামে আন্তর্জাতিক আদালতে মামলা করা উচিত। এদের কেউকে ভোট দিবেন না, এরা শুধু আমাদের জন্য নয় সারা পৃথিবীর জন্য ক্ষতিকারক প্রাণী।

When the developed world is spending billions of dollars in protecting the environment, millions of polythene posters inundated our city. Those who have ordered those (laminated) posters to be hanged should have been tried in the International Court of Justice. Vote for none of them, they are harmful not only for us but for the whole world.

Most of the top-level policymakers of Bangladesh live in Dhaka where laminated posters are being used in front of their eyes. Pointing out that they are not doing anything about it, educator Obaidullah Mahmood writes:

হিসাব কষে দেখুন কতশত টন পলিথিন মোড়ানো পোস্টার ঢাকার আকাশ ঢেকে রেখেছে!
নির্বাচন শেষে এই টন টন পলিথিন হয় বস্তিতে বস্তিতে জ্বালানী হয়ে পুড়ে বায়ুদূষণ ঘটাবে, নয়তো আবর্জনা হিসেবে ড্রেনে ঢুকবে, মাটিতে মিশবে।

Take into account how many tons of polythene laminated posters cover the skies of the city! At the end of the election, tonnes of polythene will either burn in the slums and cause air pollution, else, they will clog the drains as garbage, contaminate the earth.

Candidates are making many claims during the election campaign including plans to make Dhaka a modern city like Singapore. Twitter user Saddam Hossein tweeted about the garbage situation in the capital:

No need to turn my city into Singapore or Las Vegas. Whoever wins, should dispose of the posters from Dhaka within 1 week from the end of the election. The country has gone digital … and you are still campaigning like it's the Mughal era (a few centuries back)

While the city publishes a list of rules that candidates must follow during elections, there is nothing in the country's electoral law that prohibits the use of laminated posters. Despite calls on social media for candidates to be sanctioned, no action can be taken as a result.

However, people were pleased to see that the country's High Court issued an order on January 22nd banning the use of posters wrapped in polythene or laminated posters after taking into consideration the environmental damage. It has also banned the production and printing of laminated posters. However, this rule came a bit too late as the mayoral candidate posters are already up.

The High Court banned printing and displaying new laminated posters from now on until the case is settled. All the used laminated posters should be disposed of properly immediately after the polls.

The use of plastic in Bangladesh

Polythene bags were introduced in Bangladesh in the eighties and became a cheap alternative to the traditional jute bag. In 2002, the government banned the production, transportation, storage and use of shopping bags, making it the first country in the world to ban it on a nationwide level. Although the use of polythene had declined after the ban, relaxation in enforcement of that law saw their revival. According to a report on the widely read Bangla daily Prothom Alo, about three hundred thousand tonnes of plastic wastes are being dumped into rivers and canals every year. On January 6, 2020, the High Court (HC) directed the concerned authorities to ban single-use plastic products in the coastal areas and hotels, motels and restaurants across the country within one year.

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