The recent revelation regarding the environmental impact of Pakistan’s general elections is both alarming and disheartening. Activists have highlighted that a staggering amount of paper, approximately 2,170 tons, was utilised for the preparation of ballots and related documents. Shockingly, this equated to the felling of approximately 49,600 trees.
Firstly, it’s crucial to acknowledge that Pakistan’s dependence on imported paper exacerbates the environmental toll of its electoral processes. Despite the country’s limited paper production capacity, the reliance on imported paper, primarily sourced from cypress trees, shows just how globally interconnected environmental issues are. Furthermore, the discrepancy between the amount of paper used and the recycling efforts during elections is a cause for concern. While it’s commendable that Pakistan recycles used paper and cardboard, the scale of paper consumption during elections suggests that current recycling efforts are insufficient to mitigate the environmental impact adequately.
Addressing the environmental impact of electoral processes will require significant shifts in how things are traditionally done. Investing in domestic paper production capacity and utilising alternative materials such as recycled paper are essential steps towards reducing reliance on imported paper and mitigating deforestation. More importantly, exploring the recycling of past election ballot papers presents a promising mitigation alternative. Recycling these papers not only reduces the demand for virgin paper but also minimises the negative environmental footprint of elections. Efforts should focus on systematically collecting and sorting used papers, establishing recycling facilities and ensuring quality control for recycled paper.
Environmental responsibility should form the cornerstone of democracy, beginning with elections. By prioritising sustainability in electoral processes, we can establish a fundamental principle that electing leaders entails a commitment to environmental stewardship. This foundational approach will ensure that elected officials carry forward this responsibility.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2024.
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