Campaign banners serve whosoever is willing to pay top rupee. But what becomes of them once the elections are done?
General elections 2018 have finally come to an end. Regardless of who won or lost, the city of Lahore woke up to another challenge right after the election day: a massive number of campaign material left behind in literally every nook and corner of the provincial capital.
Election season in Lahore has a festive ring to it -- a time when the possibility of finding a naked pole or a lamp post or even an empty wall in the city, is little to none. The air is heavy with excitement-- the roads, filled to the brim with flags, banners, and posters of the participatory political parties, demanding your attention, whether you like it or not. It is next to impossible to drive down one of the city’s busy boulevards without eventually finding yourself in a flapping procession of various candidates, making their presence felt.
However, flags, banners, and posters proudly hanging on trees, lamp posts or even telephone lines during election time, usually end up on roads, drains, or worse still, in landfills once the election is over. They serve whosoever is willing to pay top rupee. But what becomes of them once they’ve fulfilled their purpose?
"It is the collective responsibility of the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) and the Metropolitan Corporation Lahore (MCL) to remove these banners," says Ejaz Hafeez, Deputy Mayor, MCL. "Larger roads in the city are looked after by the PHA, whereas we turn our focus towards the smaller ones. But there is no hard and fast rule regarding that; we mostly work together to keep the roads clean."
According to Hafeez, banners and streamers, once collected, are transferred by the PHA to the authority’s store rooms, from where -- after the passage of some time -- they are sold off to various contractors. "We are not really aware of what becomes of these banners once they’re sold off, but we do know that they are usually reused in some manner," he says.
"Due to the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) strict orders to avoid the use of flex banners during the election campaign this year, most political parties restricted themselves to using cloth banners which are less hazardous for the environment," says Shahzad Tariq, a senior official at Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA). "But that doesn’t mean flex banners weren’t used at all. Most small posters were made with flex, despite ECP’s orders."
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) issued a code of conduct for the general elections on June 22, according to which a ban was imposed on the use of pan-flex banners and posters during the election campaign, as well as on wall chalking.
Tariq says that while they remove these banners from the roads, they’re not responsible for disposing them off as well. "Party flags are usually collected by the local representatives, whereas most of the banners that end up on roads are collected by local people who then use them according to their personal needs," he says.
According to an All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA) official, cloth banners are recycled into wiping cloths for cleaning factories and offices or shredded into shoddy for use as carpet padding and insulation. Some fabric is also woven into yarn, which is then used for new products. "Banners made of cloth are saved from going to landfills due to this procedure," he says.
He adds that this shredded waste is used as fillings for pillows and mattresses, and to make items such as ropes and underlay. "These measures improve banner management and prove that it is much more reasonable to make banners with cloth than flex."
One thing that’s almost always noticeable during election campaigns is the excessive use of banners and streamers, usually by a single political party, in a single locality. "The PHA is not concerned with how many banners are put up in one location by a single party," says Tariq. "If a political party has paid the required fee to the authority, it is given permission to display its banners for a specific number of days, usually seven. The number of banners to be put up in an area is not fixed."
However, the more the number, the worse the mess once the party is over.
This post-election disarray is even more visible this time around. Torn, washed-out banners scattered on roads aside, posters and billboards of some of the parties are surprisingly still up in some areas of the city. According to Mian Muhammad Tariq, Deputy Mayor, MCL, the corporation’s workers have not been able to get these banners off within the stipulated time since the "winning party’s representatives are not letting them do their work. They abuse our workers whenever we try to take the banners off.
"The District Commissioner’s Office (DCO) should issue an order to clear the areas in question and send workers to help us get these banners off, otherwise they will end up in landfills."
Some of this post election ‘debris’ is also collected by the needy who afterwards use them according to their requirements. Gypsies and garbage collectors are often seen ‘looting’ leftover banners and streamers on the city roads after the election -- in form of groups or parties.
"We use discarded banners as taakis (mops) for our homes or turn them into small bags to hold our things," says Akram, a samosa seller, who works near the famous Barkat Market of Lahore. According to him, the thousands of yards of cloth that is used during election campaigns comes in handy for people.
Akram thinks that election banners don’t really need recycling. "Don’t get me wrong; the idea is splendid: recycling of cloth banners, so they don’t go to waste.
"But once these banners have served their purpose, aren’t they free to be utilised by anyone?" he asks.
"So, even if no one comes for them, these banners and posters are eventually collected by the poor and the needy and, rest assured, they are put to good use!" he concludes.