Wasted Election Opportunity

Edwin Lau decries the mountains of pamphlets and mail involved, and the government’s reluctance to use electronic means for candidates to get their message across.

The Legislative Council election sparked heated debates on political issues but there was little thought given to environmental issues inherent in actually holding the poll. The home pages of the Electoral Affairs Commission and Registration and Electoral Office offered candidates no guidelines on eco-friendly ways to promote their stance or how to minimise waste and conserve resources in relation to the mountains of election material, such as banners, pamphlets and uniforms. What a missed opportunity.

The commission offered all candidates a one-off free service to send their printed election pamphlets by post to the 3.22 million voters in the city. What it did not offer was the far greener option of email. Environment chief Wong Kam-sing keeps advocating waste reduction at source, yet his colleagues ignored the message.

We estimate that around 50 million pamphlets were printed for that one-off mailing. That does not include the numerous pamphlets distributed in public places. Based on these numbers, we calculate that some 12,000 trees had to die. It is reasonable to assume that quite a few died in vain, since many voters probably simply threw away the pamphlets unopened.

The registration office also posted to each of the 3.22 million voters a thick package containing introductions of the candidates and other information. Each voter at the same residential address received the package. Such unnecessary duplication was avoidable.

A colleague emailed the registration office saying he wanted to opt out of receiving printed pamphlets. Officials replied that voters needed to post or fax in a written request. That’s hardly a greener choice.

It is ridiculous and unacceptable that, in the 21st century, these government agencies still rely on snail mail with all its associated wastage, and do nothing to facilitate voters trying to help our city reduce waste – especially when more than 500,000 voters have already provided the registration office with their email address.

To curb this waste at source, we propose the government should: invite voters to indicate whether they wish to receive election material by post or electronically; encourage voters to opt for the electronic version; develop a system to send only one set of election material per household through the post; and, offer candidates a one-time free emailing of pamphlets using a system that would prevent them being blocked as junk mail.

If our government is serious about getting its environmental messages across, it must lead by example, not cling to wasteful practices belonging to the pre-computer age.

Edwin Lau Che-feng is executive director of The Green Earth.

21 September 2016 SCMP