Fall and spring are election seasons in the United States when citizens select their representatives and pick their sides on local issues. Political signs sprout up in voters’ front yards to endorse the candidates and issues they want their neighbors to also support. After the election, these signs are usually no longer usable since the year or campaign branding becomes obsolete before the next election cycle. What should we do with our political yard sign after the election cycle ends? Are political signs recyclable? What else can these materials be used for?
As always, it’s best to reuse and do our best to recycle items instead of sending them to the landfill. The materials, energy, and effort that were expended to make these signs are finite and should be conserved as much as possible.
Recycling Political Signs
Election yard signage typically has two parts: the metal stake that goes into the ground to support the sign and the sign itself with the campaign messaging. Neither of these two parts is recyclable in regular municipal curbside or drop-off recycling collection. These two sign components must be dropped off at a specialized recycling collection site.
The metal stake is typically made of steel. This material is recyclable through scrap metal recycling yards. We recommend collecting a full load of metal to recycle before you make the trip — you might even make a bit of money for your scrap metal.
The campaign sign is usually made of one of three different materials: plastic film stretched between spokes of the steel stakes, cardboard that is coated or laminated with plastic for durability, or corrugated plastic, often referred to by the brand name Coroplast.
The plastic film type of sign can usually be recycled along with film plastic bags at a local grocery store or other big box stores. If possible, it’s a good idea to contact your local collection site to confirm they accept this type of plastic film.
Both the laminated cardboard and corrugated plastic are hard to recycle and will need to be dropped off at a specialty recycling drive for these materials. Check with your local municipality or solid waste district — they may hold recycling collection events after the elections wrap up. Usually, they accept both the sign and metal parts together. Because municipalities and solid waste districts will collect a great deal of the same material, these groups will be able to drop off the materials at a specialist recycling facility that would not accept one or two signs from individuals.
Reusing Political Signs
Before trying to recycle the parts of your political yard signs, it’s best to inquire if the cause or candidate would prefer if their signs were returned to them. Reusing the sign for its intended use is the best practice because it conserves the resources needed to make new signs. The candidates or other groups that reuse their signs also benefit by cutting costs for the next election.
If you run for office or are a decision-maker for a local cause, you can directly influence the reusability of political signs. Do your best to make your election signs evergreen. Don’t print the date or year on signs and use consistent colors and logos from year to year so they can be reused again and again. Encourage supporters to return your signs or ask volunteers to round up the signs the week after the election.
Upcycling Political Signs
If your chosen candidates and causes don’t reuse their campaign signs, there are still upcycling options. If the signs are corrugated plastic or plasticized cardboard, one of the easiest projects is to just make a new sign. Simply paint over the current text and paint a new message, such as “happy birthday” or “park here.” Use chalkboard paint for extra reusability.
Because the corrugated plastic material is very durable, it has great potential for upcycling into something entirely new. Some ideas include storage cubbies, building toys, storage boxes, birdhouses, or even a geometric dome if you have enough of the material.
Use the metal stakes to support your garden plants. Or use them to make something new like a steel metal fire basket.
You may also find a local maker space that accepts signs for reuse at their facilities.
Practicing Our Values Consistently
Like so many items in our lives, campaign signs come with no end-of-life plan — even though they’re useful for just a short period. It’s easy to feel like these signs don’t belong to us and that we aren’t individually responsible for them. But after voting for candidates and measures that support our environmental, social, and moral values, we need to remember to practice those values. In most cases, it’s up to us to dispose of political yard signs responsibly at the end of the election cycle.
This article was originally published on June 2, 2021.