‘Clean up' politics: Recycle campaign signs

Tre Bishop by a collection bin
Tre Bishop has collected about 10,000 signs each year, for the past four years. Photo by Travis Gauthier
  • The Problem: Louisiana elections have generated millions of unrecyclable signs
  • The Fix: Bring used signs to a designated collection point, where they will be hauled to the nearest recycling center in Alabama—free of charge.
  • The Impact: 40,000 recycled signs
  • The Takeaway: Tre’ Bishop, 14, spearheaded a political sign recycling movement in 2019 and has successfully run a bill through the Louisiana legislature to garner support for a statewide expansion.

Political signs propagate like wildflowers every election season, their wiry legs sprouting up from roadside medians and front lawns. The corrugated plastic placards are weatherproof, attention grabbing and easy to assemble. They’re also impossible to recycle in the state of Louisiana.

Tre’ Bishop, a high school freshman and son of Rep. Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette), made headlines in 2019 when—as a sixth grader—he launched his own political sign recycling campaign. Now, fresh from successfully running a bill through both houses, Bishop has met with Gov. John Bel Edwards to petition for resources to expand his program statewide.

He has a pretty compelling argument. Writes Bishop: “According to the Secretary of State, in the last 10 years, we have had 61 elections with 28,922 candidates. Let’s say each of those candidates put out 100 signs. With no political sign recycling program in the state, that is over 2 million signs in our landfills.”

Bishop says his pilot program in the Lafayette area has collected about 10,000 signs each year, for the past four years. And they’re not all political. “The bin was filled with yard signs from every business, from roofing to real estate, to guitar lessons,” he explains.

His process has streamlined over time, primarily through a partnership with KW Plastics, a large-scale plastics recycling company and supplier based in Alabama. Bishop says KW transports the signs from his Lafayette-area collection bins to its headquarters free of charge. The real challenge, according to Bishop, is getting the used signs from the ground to his bins.

Don’t worry, he has a plan for that, too. As a member of the Ascension Episcopal School Beta Club, Bishop has established a network with other clubs across the state of Louisiana. He says members are well positioned to volunteer and help collect signs after each state and local election. His bill (HCR70) boasts the support of the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and nonprofit organizations, Keep Louisiana Beautiful and Parish Proud.

Bishop says his meeting with Edwards went well, but he’s still waiting on next steps from the governor. In the meantime, he’s working with his grandfather to engineer a more scalable and efficient collection bin. He has also partnered with Wreaths Across America to reuse the signs’ metal stakes, which can’t be recycled with the plastic.

Ahead of November’s election, Bishop encourages everyone, especially candidates, to drop off their used signs at one of his three collection points. Without taking this extra step, he says, the signs can take about 20 years to decompose in a local landfill.

“All we want to do is make the state better,” says Bishop, earnestly. “Just the smallest step to take a chance and help your community in some way—it’s a big deal for the future.”

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