After weeks of campaigning the election is finally over, but have you ever wondered what happens to all those campaign posters lining the streets or where the ballot papers end up after the votes are counted.
Recycling is now second nature to most Canberrans, wheeling out their yellow lidded bins every fortnight for collection. So it is interesting that many of us do not know what happens to all that election paper and cardboard after Election Day and if the candidates we vote for actually recycle their campaign materials.
In the 2013 Federal election over 43 million ballot papers were printed, 50 thousand ballot boxes produced and distributed, over 100 thousand pencils used and approximately 140 kilometres of string was needed to attach the pencils to the booths.
Assistant Director of Media at the Australian Electoral Commission, Greg Doolan, says the AEC takes recycling very seriously and attempts to recycle as much material as it can at each election.
“The AEC’s polling station equipment and materials, such as the polling booths, voting screens and ballot boxes are stored and reused each election as much as possible,” he said.
As for the actual ballot papers themselves after the votes have been counted both the green House of Representatives and the large white Senate ballot papers must be retained by the AEC for a period following each election. This is in case the result of an outcome in any division or in the Senate is challenged in the Court of Disputed Returns.
“As with past elections, last Saturday, the AEC provided 14,000 polling stations around Australia with recycling bins and polling staff are advised to encourage the public to use these bins particularly for the ‘How to Vote’ pamphlets,” said Mr Doolan.
Re-elected Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann is aware that recycling the vast amounts of campaign materials used in an election is important for our environment and sets a good example for others to follow.
Both the campaign flyers and posters for Ms Brodtmann’s campaign were printed locally, at Paragon Printers in Fyshwick and the T-shirts provided were made in Australia.
“For both t-shirts and corflutes, we did two orders, an initial order, and then a follow up when we knew the exact quantities we needed,” said Ms Brodtmann.
This was to ensure there was no waste through over production and none of the material was printed years specific, so it can be put in storage and used at the next election. The flyers that were also printed were not election specific which allows Ms Brodtmann’s team to continue to use them in the coming months.
“How to Vote cards were printed by our party office on recycled paper and voters are always encouraged to hand them back for recycling on the day, as well as any leftovers,” said Ms Brodtmann.
Former Greens candidate, Adam Verwey, will still ensure the recycling of his campaign materials despite missing out on the seat of Fraser.
“We have a very hardworking team dedicated to our signs. The signs are always removed within 24hrs of an election and the Greens reuse these for future elections,” said Mr Verwey.
Mr Verwey says that the Greens, obviously take recycling very seriously as they are passionate about preserving our environment and this is reflected in the campaign materials used.
“We go to a lot of effort to ensure our materials are as responsibly sourced as possible. We use post-consumer recycled paper and even sourced FSC certified wooden stakes for our road signs, which ensures it comes from a sustainable source,” he said.
For the 2013 election the AEC trialled a new way to conserve paper and make elections more efficient. Trials of an electronic certified roll system were conducted in selected early voting centres, Election Day polling booths and mobile polling teams across Australian electorates, including those of Canberra and Fraser.
“As you might know, when voters present to a polling booth to collect their ballot papers, a polling official checks and marks off their name from a hardcopy paper roll. This was the first election where an electronic version of the roll was used and hopefully will be expanded on for future elections,” said Mr Doolan.
This would not only make polling officials’ jobs easier, but it would also significantly cut down the paper required for electoral roll management on Election Day.