A plastic conscience: Project aims to eliminate political sign waste

SHUTESBURY — Plastic-coated political signs are designed to withstand the natural elements during campaign season, their durability making them ideal for placement on lawns and along the street.

As many end up in the waste stream, though, a Shutesbury artist is trying to remind the public of the dangers posed by a throwaway culture and promoting reuse as being the most environmentally responsible thing to do with them.

“We’re doing what we can to keep them out of the landfill, incinerator or ocean,” says Sharon Raymond of the signs she is creating from her home and collecting as part of a regional materials reuse group.

For Raymond, reusing political signs can be an innovative way to get into arts and crafts, so that a Biden and Harris political sign, which may not be needed again in 2024, can be turned into a Black Lives Matter banner or displays with a simple message reading “Peace” or “Love Wins.”

“You can just imagine the landfills around the country filled with the plastic that we’re so concerned about,” Raymond said.

Raymond recently showed off some of these works at her home, where Millie Strong, her 8-year-old granddaughter from Montague, cut adhesive-backed vinyl to make a collage of butterflies and other objects on one of the repurposed signs.

Other children, perhaps, could be decorating signs in their community, Raymond said.

“I’m happy to inspire people to  collect the signs where they can reuse them,” Raymond said. “Wouldn’t it be great if we got a lot of signs? At least if we can reuse them and give them another shot at life.”

Raymond said many of the signs she is working with are currently stored in Hatfield.

As a member of The Hive, the maker-space in Greenfield that will eventually have a Main Street storefront, she also creates ecological footwear, using parts of a former conveyor belt and its linings for the soles of shoes, and old inner tubes for the straps.

Raymond said people at maker-spaces can go to local factories to see what they are throwing away and what can be made from it. This has taken her to a factory in Fall River where she viewed scraps from motorcycle jackets. Some of this product, she observes, could easily be turned into bracelets and earrings.

Raymond’s advocacy is not dissimilar from what is being done at Smith College, where Laura Lilienkamp is the prototyping studio coordinator at the Design Thinking Initiative.

Lilienkamp said the hope is to shift toward a zero-waste model, where all materials used for making are sourced from reused or recycled materials, and scrap materials are able to be reused or recycled as well.

“Creating circular waste streams is not only important to minimizing our carbon footprint; it also encourages students to engage critically with the source of the materials they are using,” Lilienkamp said.

Reusing materials locally eliminates carbon dioxide emissions, emissions from shipping new materials, chemicals and energy required for sorting and recycling, and problems with exporting recycling to other countries who then have to deal with sorting and discarding items, Lilienkamp said.

The Western Mass Creative Reuse Network is a collective interested in redistributing waste materials from commercial and industrial sources to schools, shelters, maker-spaces, artisans, teachers and community organizations. But without a physical storage space, the network has instead used a distributed storage model where materials, like the political signs, end up being stored in sheds, barns and basements across the region.

Lilienkamp said there is hope to find better space for free storage of materials, with the network available at material-reuse@googlegroups.com.

“I just want the Valley to be a place of consciousness to grow and wouldn’t it be great if there is more education and how you can reuse this,” Raymond said. “You have to have a plastic consciousness.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

Author: Going Green

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