When November comes around, we have another round of elections as well. Especially when there is a controversial question on the ballot, that means another large round of political yard signs. The question is: What to do with those signs when the shouting is all over?

That depends a lot on how a sign was made. Generally, there are two parts. One part is the wire stake that holds them up. It’s generally a “U” shaped steel wire that comes out of the ground on one side, up inside the sign, across the top, and down into the ground again. While steel, it is not recyclable in the blue bins. The wire is easily tangled up in the sorting equipment, and will cause a great deal of damage. It is recyclable at a scrap yard when it’s been pulled out of the sign itself. A load of them collected around the neighborhood might even have a small value as scrap. Or they can be left on the metals pile at the Graham Road processing station.

The sign itself is generally one of three types. One type is plastic film stretched across the stake, which should be able to be recycled at the grocery store along with other plastic films. The others are either cardboard coated with plastic laminate, or a corrugated plastic material.

The laminated cardboard signs are actually recyclable, once the metal stakes are removed. If the sign can be torn, it’s cardboard or paperboard inside, and can be recycled. The laminate will float off when the cardboard is reduced to a pulp, and is easily filtered out of the pulp. It is then either burned or landfilled, according to the practices of the mill that does the processing. We get no say in which method is used, but either is better than putting the whole sign into a landfill, so we go with it.

The corrugated plastic signs, I’m assured, are not recyclable, and must be trashed or repurposed. The smarter candidates will even collect them, and save them for their next campaign — a practice I heartily endorse! That saves a lot of money for the next campaign, and also saves the resources needed to make new signs next time. It’s a good thing to ask your candidate to do.

After that, we recommend upcycling the signs. Just paint over the old message for new messages like “Happy Birthday,” “Park Here,” etc. You can even use what’s called “Chalkboard Paint” that, once dried, acts like a chalkboard and can be erased and reused multiple times. A single properly done application of this paint has served for at least three years on a large wall at the Brunswick Visitor Center.


The corrugated plastic is also tough enough to be made into things like storage cubbies, bird houses (if you and your birds are of the same political persuasion, presumably), or other home projects. One person I know uses them to decorate an entire wall in her basement. She just glues them on there in an artistic order.

The stakes, rather than being recycled at the metals pile, can be used to support garden plants, or can be bent and folded into a wide variety of other objects, like plant baskets, or even fire baskets, which hold a small amount of wood for an evening chat (look up “steel metal fire basket” on the web to see how outrageously much they can cost to buy).

Whatever you choose, don’t forget to vote first!

The Recycle Bin is a weekly column on what to recycle, what not to recycle, and why, in Brunswick. The public is encouraged to submit questions by email to [email protected]. Harry Hopcroft is a member of the Brunswick Recycling and Sustainability Committee, though his opinions are his own and does not necessarily reflect those of the committee. 

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