Political Waste

At one of the handful of campaign events I attended this past political season, when the room cleared at the end of the night, tables were left decorated in political propaganda. The fliers I assume were thrown away by janitorial staff. As I navigated my way home I passed hundreds of yard signs, and dozens of billboards aimed at vying for your vote. What happens with all of these materials after everyone casts their ballot and the results come in? Politicians seeking another term in office or willing to make another run for a top spot may save their signs for a future election. Shel Horowitz, of Hadley, Mass., three-time political candidate and volunteer on many campaigns, reminds candidates that proper spending starts with your sign. “Reuse is always a greener proposition than recycling. Design the content for storage and reuse, avoid specific election dates or running mates. Even as far back as my first run for office in 1985, the signs I had done for my own campaigns simply said ‘Shel Horowitz for Council,’ and I was easily able to reuse them in 1987 and even in 1993,” Horowitz said.

Ways to reuse discarded signs

Those who have chosen to end their elected political career have a lot of creative options to give their signs a second lease on life. The Chairman of the Vigo County Republican Party, Randall Gentry, has reused the larger discarded signs under his car when doing repair work. He says they work great and are easy to clean up.

Damon Carson, the owner of Repurposed Materials, Inc., an industrial thrift store with locations in Denver, Chicago and Atlanta, says what your company may see as waste, he finds a second use for. For example, “If you were getting your counter top replaced, the company would go in, make a template of your countertops. They like to use Coroplast to do so. Campaign signs are a good source of that material,” Carson said.

Carson also recommends Craigslist as a great avenue to get rid of signs because there are a lot of resourceful people found there. “This stuff has value to somebody. The problem is it takes more work and effort to find it a second home,” Carson said.

In Silver Spring, Md., Lisa Sanders appreciates the value of discarded political signs. Her neighborhood repurposes them to promote neighborhood functions. Repurposing the signs saves her neighborhood association money from having to buy signage, which can be pretty pricey, Sanders said. She is also very active in PTA. Signs are used throughout the year for bake and book sales as well as for directional signage for events. “For an organization that doesn’t have a lot of money, the political signs help us save on big out-of-pocket expenses,” Sanders said.

Supporting the arts community

Pablo Solomon, 66, an artist and conservationist based in Lampasas, Texas, has made the most from discarded political material. Over the years he says he has collected enough 4- by 8-inch sheets of painted, outdoor plywood to deck and wall a garage. He also collected enough treated lumber that holds the big signs to build a shed and to fence in a large area. He used the plastic signs to insulate an attic and the metal sign supports as tomato stakes in his garden.

As an artist, Solomon appreciates the plywood. He says it is excellent as a canvas for painting. While not everyone may want a 4’ by 8’ painting, he trims them down to 3’ by 4’ to be suitable for a buyer. “When you’re framing art up, you need something just to back the canvas to make it look nicer. A lot of the political signs work great for that,” Solomon said. He adds that buyers often appreciate the reuse of material when looking for new art.

The resources candidates put into their campaigns are expensive, and artists finding surfaces to paint on can be costly. He recommends politicians reaching out to anyone involved in arts as they would probably love to get some of the material. “Rather than throwing it away, contact an art teacher who may have 150 students. Just coming up with surfaces for them to do paintings on may be out of budget. They would love to have them,” Solomon said.

From billboards to bags

A favorite idea of mine is turning old billboards into reusable bags. A Georgia-based company called Gorilla Sacks does just that. Each Gorilla Sack is made from recycled billboard vinyl. These are the same billboards you see along the roadways. Each pattern piece is hand-cut to create a bag that doubles as a piece of art. Therefore, every Gorilla Sack is one-of-a-kind, since each is cut from a unique billboard.

Recycle campaign waste locally

Sisters of Providence will accept untreated, unpainted wood without nails and staples. The old wood frames will be placed in their biomass boiler. The boiler supplies steam to provide hot water and to heat Owens, Providence and O’Shaughnessy halls as well as all health care facilities. To arrange for a drop-off, call Lisa Marrs at 812-535-2902. Indiana State University’s Recycling Center will take the plastic and vinyl political signs. One can leave them stacked neatly next to the plastic bins.

For more creative ideas on how to reuse political signs, Pinterest provides gobs of projects from building bird houses to lining a stairwell. Happy pinning!


Submitted by Jane Santucci

Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a proud volunteer with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at JaneSantucci@yourgreenvalley.com.

Blog NewsMargaret Stout