Nature Canada

Why Election Signs Are Problematic Even When Elections Are Long Over

During Calgary’s recent municipal election in mid-october, there were election signs as far as the eye could see. As in other parts of Canada, voters and candidates could put up as many signs as they wanted.

The harm of thousands of election signs outweigh the benefits. Ever wondered what happens to them after an election? They spend centuries in the landfill. In Calgary, most, if not all signs, can’t be recycled because they’re coated with plastic. Specifically, the signs are made of corrugated coroplast material, so they don’t deteriorate.

Some quick background: when signs are printed, they have an extra layer of PVC to stop them from being damaged – and this plastic is difficult to see, and therefore difficult to remove. Signs can only be dismantled and thrown in the garbage, or be taken directly to a landfill for disposal.

Election signs littered in a northeast Calgary community park. With no one to take responsibility for their disposal or reuse, these signs may stay here indefinitely. Photo taken by Anosha Khan on November 30, 2021. 

When asked about whether signs can be recycled, the City of Calgary said: “The City is not able to recycle election signs, but please check with your candidate to see if they have a recycle/reuse option available. We also suggest repurposing signs or posting on Kijiji as they are popular for arts, crafts etc.” Thank you for the kind suggestion.

What’s worse is that nobody wants to take responsibility—not the City, and certainly not the candidates. The City expects all candidates to collect their signs and dispose of them within 72 hours after the election (after all, it is bylaw), but many aren’t doing that, so now we have trash piling in neighbourhoods. Signs are still up.

Edmonton has an election sign recycling page outlining where signs can be recycled and how to properly recycle them. Why can’t Calgary and other cities follow suit?

Non-recyclableness, though, isn’t the only issue. There’s also excessivity. The phenomena of sign pollution ran rampant during the recent Calgary election. There was often only a two-foot distance between one sign and the next (and this was particularly noticeable in the Northeast). The City states that you must have a 20-metre distance.

Although it’s been over a month since the municipal election, many houses and businesses continue to keep their election signs up despite bylaws. Photo taken by Anosha Khan on November 30, 2021. 

Recently, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek announced a climate emergency. It’s not a stretch to say that election signs contribute to environmental hazards, which are part of the climate problem. So, what’s the solution? Candidates can use social media to get their messages out. They can use digital displays where available. They can hold events (online) for constituents. Perhaps with these and other steps we can eventually get rid of plastic election signs for good.

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