Are election signs recyclable?
Oct 15, 2020

Are election signs recyclable?

Election Corflutes

Are corflute signs recyclable?

Corflute, or corrugated plastic signboard as it is otherwise known, is a wonderfully durable material. Able to withstand the elements, completely waterproof and tough in very strong winds. It is a very widely used material in the signage industry from real estate signs to election signs.

As we drive past all those election signs we have to wonder if politicians and political aspirants are being responsible with the signs they use to promote themselves.

The argument for coreflute signs

The greatest argument for coreflute signs is their durability. They will outlast the longest political campaign by years. Elections are generally short-lived affairs with candidates and parties getting limited time to prepare their campaigns and woo voters.  These days political campaigns are truly integrated marketing campaigns spanning print media, social media, radio, television and out of home (OOH) signage.

Corflute is the most common form of out of home election signage and it needs to last the duration of the campaign. No matter what weather gets thrown at it, corflute will most likely come through undamaged.

That is good news for candidates, and somewhat for the environment. Fluted plastics midterm durability means they do not need to be replaced potentially saving the plastic required to replace them and the emissions in installing new signs.

Corflute is made from polypropylene which can be recycled and reformed into itself. It also has a wide range of reuse applications from protecting floors to lining planter boxes.

The argument against coreflute signs

Corflute signs are inescapably plastic. Polypropylene is formed from non-renewable oil. Despite its durability, it will degrade when exposed to UV creating microplastic waste.

It is recyclable but there are limited recyclers and getting the post-use product to the recycler is complicated and costly. Normal waste streams like curbside rubbish removal cannot handle corflute signs. They are a contaminant in the plastic waste stream (whatever that is in Australia).

Signs can only be recycled if they are free of foreign objects like eyelets or stakes. Many of these signs are made by applying a PVC sticker to the face of the corflute – this renders the plastic unrecyclable.

So corflute can be recycled if ALL the following conditions are met:

  • It is direct printed and not sticker applied
  • Eyelets, stickers and stakes are removed
  • It is bundled into industrial quantities (ie palletised)
  • It is delivered to the recycling plant

Most council waste streams will not have a dedicated collection for corflute. The truth is election signs will end up in landfill. Our leaders either willfully or ignorantly ignore this inconvenient truth, Greens included.

How to fix this situation?

Aside from the obvious cure of changing to signs made from renewable products which can be recycled in the normal waste stream there is something that can be done.

Reducing the number of signs a politician is allowed to display would be the most obvious and would also level the field (if you are into that type of thing). Reducing the size would be another. Most election signs are 600mm x 900mm but one half the size would contain the same message. Dare we say less signs may actually look better given the clutter elections can create.

Ultimately councils are responsible for setting rules as to what happens within their boundaries. Waste disposal is one area of government that rests firmly with councils, as does the use of signs. So when the federal government comes knocking and placing a billion signs around their area, they are well within their rights to tell them where they are allowed to display them, how many they are allowed to display, what size they should be and how they need to be recycled.

Councils should take an active role in recording and ensuring that candidates that display signs, also handle them responsibly after they are used. Election sign stewardship is not the most impractical idea and one that should be run in every council for every election.

Alternatives to corflute

Outdoor paper board is viable alternative to corrugated plastic.  Boards such as Oppboga or Katz board are specifically designed to last outdoors.  These signs are not meant to last 500 years, just around 12 weeks or the amount of time it takes to run an election campaign. They are sourced from responsibly farmed forests and are recycled in the curbside waste streams. Unlike corflute, outdoor paperboard is completely renewable.

Candidates tend to get on a roll with corflute because it is cheap to produce, so signs that could be paper posters become corrugated plastic.