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Mheshimiwa, your campaign posters are constipating goats

Health & Science
 Goat chewing campaign poster in Embakasi West, Nairobi. [Standard]

There are many politicians still staring down at Kenyans from campaign posters on walls, electricity poles and footbridges long after the elections were done and dusted.   

From major cities to rural hamlets, the posters are on shops, estate gates, streets, roads and even trees. The campaign poster trash, according to environmentalists, becomes an environmental menace.

Indeed, since the 1920s, political parties and candidates have invested heavily on posters with their images and slogans.

But they hardly clean up as Boniface Mwangi did when he unsuccessfully bid for the Starehe Parliamentary in the 2017 elections. 

Experts are raising concerns over the poster menace after each election. In fact, it was due to littering that the Election Act 2011 was enacted.

The Act states that it is an offence to print, publish, distribute or post a placard or poster, which refers to an election, without displaying the name and address of the printer and publisher of the material.

In addition, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) necessitates candidates to deposit money which is refundable after they remove posters following an election.

But last week, Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja and other elected leaders including Senator-elect, Edwin Sifuna, Dagoretti North MP-elect, Beatrice Elachi and Moses Ogeto, the Kilimani MCA elect, joined residents in cleaning up political litter in Kilimani under the Kilimani Project Foundation and Amnesty International Kenya.

Patrick Odhiambo, an ecologist at Ecology Without Borders, said that campaign posters end up in open spaces and landfill as Kenya lacks an adequate recycling mechanism to manage waste.

“It is not surprising that the pollution is getting worse due to unregulated campaign posters all over the country,” Odhiambo said, adding that recycling is the most effective way to reduce paper pollution.

Odhiambo noted that domestic animals have been spotted eating campaign posters in slums and villages which is harmful to their health.

However, he said a decentralised waste collection system, where small communities collect waste from each household and sort it into organic and inorganic categories before trucking it away to landfill sites, short circuits recycling.

Public structures

In Kisumu, the NEMA County Director, Tom Togo said the agency was struggling with the election nuisance that comes with campaign posters.

Kisumu’s informal settlements, public structures, buildings, walls and road signs, have all been taken over by campaign posters.

Even pavements have not been spared. Every inch of the available space, public or private, is covered with pictures or messages from candidates, contributing to the city’s unkempt look.

“Electoral body issued orders to candidates to clear posters they have posted on surfaces, the orders apply in this elections and we will be following up on the same,” Togo said.

At the onset of the campaign, Governor nyang’ Nyong’o gave a directive that campaign posters should not be plastered on walls in the the CBD.

A clean-up exercise at Dunga area on the shores of Lake Victoria proved that the number of posters as solid wastes has doubled since the electioneering period.

Compost fertiliser

The posters float on the lake and others are on the shores.

Victor Didi, the founder of Twins Word CBO which was carrying out the cleanup, said that politicians do not understand the impact of their posters on the environment.

“We are picking up the trash made up of campaign posters and take to a local company for recycling to produce compost fertiliser,” Didi said.

Dominic Wanjiha, the chief executive of Flex Biogas International said they are coordinating with cleaners  to collect the posters for recycling into compost fertiliser and “which is the best option to keeping the environment clean.”  

Scientists observed that using less paper can save political candidates money and at the same time conserve the environment.

Reports at United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) show that of all trees harvested for industrial use, 42 percent go to making paper.

Unfortunately, the degradation of forests is only part of the story.

The pulp and paper industry is also the largest industrial user of water, the biggest water polluter, and the third largest emitter of global warming pollution in most industrialised nations.

UNEP further estimates that over eight million trees are being chopped annually to produce pencils.

Rosemary Owigar, a climate change expert and lecturer at Maseno University said tonnes of papers are thrown away by households and only a few are recycled.

The rest is sent to landfill sites where it rots and produces the powerful greenhouse gas methane.

She however observed that there is still plenty of room for improvement and added that recycling makes economic and environmental sense.

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