Throughout the past year, campaign signs for local and statewide elections crowded nearly every prominent corner and roadway throughout Scottsdale.
What happens to those signs when the election is over has become a cause for concern for some Scottsdale residents.
Some signs are recyclable and others can be reused in future campaigns – but many still end up in the landfill.
John Stumbaugh with City of Scottsdale’s Solid Waste Services said the city’s contracted recycler only accepts solid flat plastic signs and not the corrugated ones most commonly used during campaigns.
Other cities are in a similar position.
Both Phoenix and Chandler used to provide drop-off locations for campaign signs, but neither provides that service any longer.
A spokesperson for City of Chandler said that it is no longer an option for the city because there are no vendors available that accept the signs for recycling.
“I was appalled when I found out all these political signs are not recyclable,” Scottsdale resident Emily Austin said. “It is irresponsible not to have an exit plan … I want to make sure to have some sort of a game plan with major collection points and a plant that can recycle them. Otherwise, I don’t think they should be allowed.”
New City Councilwoman Solange Whitehead shares those concerns.
“When I picked up the first batch of my yard signs first batch, I was just sitting there crying and thinking ‘I just created this environmental disaster,’” she said.
The issue led her to look outside of the box for a solution.
Whitehead contacted Executive Director Megan Mosby at Liberty Wildlife to find out if her organization could use the signs. Liberty Wildlife is a Phoenix-based nonprofit that provides animal rehabilitation, conservation and education services.
“She asked the staff and they said they are always in need of shade (for their animals),” Whitehead said.
Whitehead worked with Diane Burns of Petition Pros, the company she hired to collect her campaign signs following the election, to have her signs delivered to Liberty Wildlife where they will be used to construct shade structures for injured animals.
Whitehead also coordinated with Councilmember Kathy Littlefield and the Protect Our Preserve organization to have Littlefield’s and pro-Prop 420 signs included in the donation.
Prior to settling on Liberty Wildlife, Whitehead also considered donating the signs to Mesa Police Department.
“It was either bullets or bird poop,” she said.
Mesa Police spokesperson Brandi George said Mesa Police Department uses the white back side of large campaign signs and trash truck billboards as backers for targets at its shooting range.
“Paper targets are hung over the plastic backer. It serves us well during bad weather because it is essentially waterproof and cardboard is useless when wet,” George said.
Stumbaugh, from Scottsdale’s Solid Waste Services Department, said Scottsdale was inspired by Mesa Police and plans to start up a similar program for Scottsdale Police Department.
He said the city plans to set up a drop-off point during the next election cycle to collect signs for the police department.
“Even though they’re not getting recycled, they are still getting repurposed and getting the most use possible,” Stumbaugh said.
Candidates who would like to cut down on post-election waste could simply decide to stop using signs altogether.
Though local governments cannot mandate a sign ban – political signs are considered protected speech by the First Amendment – there are some who question whether the signs are effective.
Researchers at Columbia University found that on average lawn signs only increase a candidate’s vote share by 1.7 percent.
Political scientist Donald Green told Philadelphia public radio station WHYY that lawn signs do not make a difference in overall voter turnout but could affect who wins a very close election.