The polls have closed, the pundits are silent (sort of) and the ballots have been counted. But one question remains: What to do with all those political yard signs?
All across the country, people are taking down signs expressing their support for candidates and causes. And in some parts of the country, efforts are under way to collect and recycle these signs, which are often made from difficult-to-recycle materials.
Political signs are typically made from materials that make them durable and able to withstand being left outdoors for the marathon election season, such as corrugated plastic or plastic film. While these materials might make signs more weatherproof, they also make them less recyclable. However, this isn’t deterring local organizations from keeping them out of landfills.
“I’m finding that, yes, [local organizations] are recycling them, but you have to take them to a collection center,” said Brenda Pulley, senior vice president for recycling at Keep America Beautiful, of the newly-irrelevant signs.
In Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley, Allied Waste/Republic Services will be holding collection events in Albany and Corvallis on Nov. 15, America Recycles Day, to allow residents to recycle their signs.
“What we’re trying to accomplish is to let people know that most of the plastics included in the signs should not be co-mingled [in curbside recycling],” said Emily Phillips, recycling coordinator at Allied Waste/Republic Services.
According to Phillips, many of the signs in her area are made from either a corrugated plastic or a thin film held together with a recyclable metal frame. She said that her company will have volunteers on hand at the event to separate the materials. The collected plastics will be sent to Agri-Plas, Inc., a company in Brooks, Oregon that specializes in recovering agricultural plastics, where they will be processed into crude oil, she said.
Phillips said that some candidates are collecting and saving their signs for reuse during the next election cycle, which she said is great option for keeping them out of landfills.
In addition to smaller signs, politically-minded residents might put in their lawns or windows, farmers in the agriculturally-oriented area often use their fields to display much larger political advertisements. Those signs, said Phillips, can also be brought in for recycling.
“As long as people can get them to the drop-off locations, we will accept them,” said Phillips, who isn’t sure how many signs people will bring in.
Terry Buenzow, the recycling department manager for Iowa’s Winneshiek County, said that he has seen more political yard signs dotting peoples’ yards and the countryside than previous years. With Iowa being considered swing state this year, Buenzow expects at least 2,000 signs to be turned in for recycling, possibly twice the number of signs his department received after the last election cycle in 2010.
“We’re going to get a lot of traffic in here tomorrow,” he told Resource Recycling on Election Day. “It’s going to be nuts.”
Buenzow said that local media in the area have been getting the word out to residents that they can recycle the signs, but he added that he wouldn’t take any signs until after the election over concerns of aiding sign stealers.
Like in Oregon, the signs in Iowa are made from a corrugated plastic that Buenzow said will be used as bale headers. “That material comes in handy quite a bit,” he said.
Mike Baum, the executive director of Keep Virginia Beautiful, wrote in an email exchange that many political signs used in the battleground state appear to be made from plastic sleeves that can be turned in at grocery stores that will then be directed to Trex, which will use them in its composite lumber products at its Winchester, Virginia facility. He also wrote that his organization wasn’t planning any collection events, but would look into it in the future.
“As a lot of people know, Ohio was a focal point of the campaign, so there’s lots of material that needs to be recycled,” said Jodi Andes, spokesperson for the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO).
On Saturday, SWACO will be holding an event in Grove City, a suburb of Columbus, where people can drop off political signs or any other kind of campaign literature.
According to Andes, there will be three bins at the event: one for metal, one for plastic and one for waste. While SWACO does expect to get some cardboard signs, it is expecting mostly plastic that will be sent to Columbus-based Phoenix Recycling, Inc.