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Concerns loose election posters are polluting marine environment

Dublin environmentalist has been unearthing old campaign posters from the sand around Dublin’s Bull Island

For environmentalist Brian Bolger it was little surprise that local and European election posters were already blowing off poles around Dollymount in north Co Dublin. He has been pulling them from the nature reserve’s seabed for years.

The problem is so established that he even has a poster promoting Democratic Left – a party disbanded at the end of the last century – among his collection of washed out, polluting trophies.

Scientific tests run for The Irish Times show the posters gathered by Bolger are made of polypropylene, the same material used in medical masks. It breaks down in the marine environment and can be consumed by sea life.

Political parties claim various responsible approaches toward the use of election posters in coastal areas but once loose and blown away the extent of their impact on the environment is unknown.

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“They are [made from] corrugated plastic so when the eventually come down or get blown down sand fills the corrugated part and they sink to the bottom and they stay there. That’s why you start to find 30-year-old posters,” said Bolger (51), who has been cleaning the area around the Bull Island nature reserve for years, most recently with his teenage son Colm.

“They degrade over time and leak into the biosphere. They aren’t going away any time soon,” he said. “This is just a short stretch of coastline. If it’s happening here it’s happening in beauty spots around the country. In every small town, in every protected piece of coastline.”

Dr Liam Morrison, a marine scientist who has been studying plastics pollution at the school of natural science in Galway University, ran tests on fragments of some of the posters scraped out of the seabed by Bolger.

They are made of polypropylene, a water resistant material but one that is susceptible to weathering and which can degrade. Over time, Dr Morrison said, these plastics can fragment and break down into microplastics which can then be ingested by organisms. Water can help the process and the chemicals can leak into the marine environment.

“One of the key things to identify in strategies to mitigate against plastic pollution is identifying and understanding sources,” he said. “And here we find now, in the middle of an election, these posters are actually a potential source because 20 years later, 30 years later, we are finding them washed up.”

According to Dublin City Council responsibility for enforcement of litter law lies with the local authority. Although litter fines of €150 can be issued the guidelines say this applies in cases where posters remain in place before or after permitted election times. Under the Litter Pollution Act 1997, election posters and the cable ties used to hold them up must be removed one week after polling day, which this time around is June 14th.

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín said while election posters remain an important part of the electoral process he would favour cross-party talks on limiting their number. “I do think there are far too many posters and in this election some parties have gone bananas. There is no doubt we are seeing poster-flation.”

Fine Gael said it issues guidelines to candidates and teams, including that their recyclable posters are securely attached. “Corri-board is the standard material used for election posters, and we have reviewed the thickness and density of the boards we use to minimise ripping in the event of extreme weather conditions,” a spokeswoman said.

“If posters have been recovered from Dollymount Strand there are many reasons as to why that might happen; including the possibility that posters have been interfered with and removed by people other than our candidates and postering teams.”

The Green Party said its manifesto calls for an end to posters on lamp-posts, to be replaced by material pasted on walls. “We do everything we can to prevent posters blowing into the sea,” a spokesman said. “Posters are far from ideal and do cause pollution.”

Labour and the Social Democrats said they use secure postering and have had no reports of sea or beach pollution.

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