Election season brings with it an onslaught of plastic signs for supported candidates.
Now with the election behind us, what happens with all of them?
The Canada Elections Act doesn’t regulate when or where campaign signs can be posted during and outside of a federal election period, but local bylaws can.
In the Halifax Regional Municipality, signs are permitted to go up on private property or within the street right of way, the day the writ is issued for a federal election. HRM's bylaw regulating temporary signs does not specify when they must come down.
“There's lots of debate about how effective they actually are,” says University of Prince Edward Island professor of political science Peter McKenna. “Some believe that disinterested voters can be swayed by the number of lawn signs, while others don't think it means a whole lot in the end.”
He says they have been a typical part of elections in Canada since the 1940s, but that may soon not be the case.
“In an age of climate change and plastic bans, it may be time for Canadians to take a closer look at this issue of whether signs are really needed,” he says. “And if there is a better way in our connected world of today.”
Many candidates save their signs to reuse in future campaigns, including Liberal Member of Parliament for South Shore-St. Margarets, Bernadette Jordan.
“Maybe 75 per cent of the signs I have are from the last election that I actually put re-elect on,” she says. “I wanted to reuse them.”
Jordan says she is unsure how many signs she used altogether.
While she calls the campaign tool an “environmental disaster,” she says their impact is lower in her riding.
“Here in the Chester area it’s not as much of a problem,” she says. “They have a plant here that is taking that plastic and converting it into biodiesel and in that sense it is good here.”
On behalf of the federal government in 2017, Jordan announced a $2.6 million investment to help build the facility, called Sustane Technologies.
The plant plans on turning up to 50,000 tonnes of municipal garbage a year into biomass pellets, diesel and kerosene. President and co-founder of the company, Peter Vinall, confirms the facility is still in its start-up phase, but adds it should be up and running by the end of the year.
Mark Butler with the Ecology Action Centre isn’t convinced the environmental impact of election signs is lessened if they end up at Sustane Technologies.
“The waste recovery is lower on our list of preferred outcomes," he says. “Our first choice should always try to be to not use something if we can, and then if we do use it, to see it recycled back into what it was before.”
Butler is not enthusiastic about the overuse of election signs - and he isn’t alone.
“I think it is a holdover from the old days when the only way you could sort of throw out the party brand is to physically create these signs,” says Green Party candidate for Halifax West Richard Zurawski. “I don't think they convert anyone and I think it’s a waste.”
Zuarwski says he has 425 signs posted in his riding this election. He says half of them are made using corplast, or corrugated plastic, while the others are ‘bag signs,’ made using thinner plastic.
He says the bag signs are generic party signs which can be reused for future candidates in any riding.
“The generic bag signs are the most eco-friendly we could design,” he says. “We will be able to use them as long as there is a Green Party somewhere.”
Bruce Holland was the Conservative Party candidate in Halifax, and says his campaign was environmentally conscious about how many signs it used. In total, he says he posted about 250 corplast campaign signs.
“No matter how many you get out there, it’s not an indication of who is going to win,” says Holland. “A wise politician once told me that signs don’t vote.”
For the most part, he says the sign material will be reused, whether it’s in a future election or by residents in the community.
“We have had a couple requests for them. One guy wants to make a velomobile. What that is exactly, I’m not entirely sure,” he says.
First-time NDP candidate Jessika Hepburn ran in South Shore-St. Margarets, and also wanted to get creative with her signs.
“I was going to find artists across the riding to invest in, and have them create unique handmade signs,” she says. “But it was a short, four-week campaign so I didn't really have time to convince the party that a brand new idea was the way to go.”
She hopes to try the idea in a future election, completely getting away from conventional campaign signs.
“I didn't want signs this election, but I was convinced they were a campaign necessity so I ordered the minimum number,” she says.
Michelle Lindsay, the People's Party of Canada candidate for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, says signs serve an important purpose but she thinks candidates should be limited to how many they can use.
"To make it fair to everyone, maybe everyone could use only 100 signs and that is it," she says. "If I am a new party that has limited resources, that doesn't mean I don't deserve the votes."
Lindsay says she purchased about 65 corplast signs which she plans on reusing in future elections.
Signs can only be reused for so long.
HRM spokesperson Brynn Budden says once corplast signs have served their purpose, they can be recycled in the municipality, permitting they are disassembled properly.
“This would include removing the plastic signs from the wooden or metal posts they are attached to, as well as removing all the fasteners, like screws for example, and putting them in the garbage,” she says.
Budden says wooden posts with no coating or fasteners can be placed in green carts or tied in small bundles and put to the curb. Metal posts must either be dropped off at a metal recycler or put in the garbage.