Many of the banners erected ahead of Durga Puja are made of single-use plastic with little or no demand for recycling. They will end up in the Dhapa waste disposal sites and negatively impact the natural degradation of waste, many Kolkatans who work for a better environment said.
Lakhs of such banners have been made and framed across the city.
Officials of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) said it was impossible to physically check each banner.
A KMC official said they were not aware of what materials have been used to make the banners.
An official of the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) said that the KMC, being the custodian of roads in Kolkata, was supposed to keep a check on the banners.
The WBPCB had published a public notice in April “prohibiting the production, distribution, sale and use of Single Use Plastic (SUP) items”, which the state environment department mentioned in a notification issued in June.
Environment activists said that the volume of plastic waste that will be generated once the banners lose their purpose would be massive.
“The banners are mostly made from banned items,” said Subhas Datta, an environment activist.
Bonani Kakkar, an environmental worker and founder of the NGO PUBLIC, said: “The banners have been made from single-use plastic. They will have no use once Puja is over.”
An owner of an advertising agency said that creases or wrinkles will form on the banners once they are folded or brought down.
The environment department’s June notification also mentioned that single-use plastic items “produce toxic gases on burning and such items cause choking of sewers and drains, reduce soil fertility and pose a threat to life of cattle when they ingest plastic waste”.
The banners have very little or no demand in the recycling market and most of them will end up on neighbourhood grounds, vacant places or in the Dhapa waste disposal ground.
Sunil Pandey, senior director (environment and waste management), The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri), said that the “PVC banners were not easy to recycle”.
“They have no or very little recycling value. They are often burnt and it may release toxic compounds in the air in case the combustion is inefficient,” said Pandey.
The banners are impermeable layers, said a WBPCB official. They will form a layer between other waste when they are sent to Dhapa. This way, they stop the contact between others waste above and below them and the natural degradation of the other waste gets delayed.
The banners themselves take years to decompose, the PCB official said.
Across Kolkata, such banners have eclipsed all roads that have puja pandals.
Rashbehari Avenue, Chittaranjan Avenue, Gariahat Road, Jatindra Mohan Avenue, Hazra Road, Aurobindo Sarani and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Road are among some such roads.
Besides impacting the environment, the banners have also eclipsed the buildings and shops behind them.
In some places, they have been fitted so low that pedestrians are forced to duck under them to step onto the footpath.
“They block the entry of light and air to many houses,” said Datta.
The temporary advertisements are put up by companies who pay the Durga Puja committees money for the space. The committees make temporary frames. By the time Durga Puja ends, the elements mutilate many of the banners.
“The torn banners fall on the road and the KMC removes them. The ones that are not removed for days are also removed by us,” said an official of the KMC.
Some Puja organisers claimed they had no role in putting up the banners.
“The temporary advertisements are put up by companies who pay the Durga Puja committees money for the space. The committees make temporary frames. Puja committees have no other involvement,” said the member of a prominent Durga Puja in south Kolkata.