Two years ago, a 10-year-old girl from Federal Way had a bright idea.
Jessica Lam wrote to the organizers of Zoolights, the annual holiday light display at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, suggesting they get involved in recycling strands of used and unwanted holiday lights – an idea she learned about from her grandfather.
The project would keep materials out of landfills and find new uses for the copper and plastic contained in the strings of lights. And with the value of copper soaring on world markets, it could generate revenue for the zoo.
Last season, the zoo collected 5,277 pounds of light strands and earned $4,975.
Also in 2009, the zoo gained a partner in the project, Girl Scouts of Western Washington. On Tuesday, Scouts were back at the zoo to kick off this year’s drive, which continues through Jan. 15.
Brownie, Junior and Cadette scouts joined Americorps volunteers and zoo staff members to unload, sort and package light strands for recycling. The Scouts have also given a boost to the project by asking troop members and others in their communities to gather lights for recycling.
Anika S-Nelson of Troop 40731 in Tacoma was happy to help.
“We’re recycling,” the 8-year-old said. “And having fun. And getting our fingers cold.”
Why? “Because it’s good for the Earth,” she added.
Shelby Alongi of Tacoma, a 13-year-old member of Troop 40780, chose to give up a morning of her holiday vacation time because “I want to help the community.”
“It’s better for the environment,” added 9-year-old Rachel Nunes of University Place, a member of Troop 40376.
Scouts had a chance to learn about energy conservation at a workshop earlier this month. They were asked to help market the light recycling program in their communities. They made posters and collection boxes for their schools or neighborhoods.
Their efforts can help them earn a Girl Scout badge.
Money raised from light recycling will go to the zoo’s conservation fund. This year, in honor of Bima and Mali, the two Sumatran tiger cubs born at Point Defiance in the spring, half of the money raised will be earmarked for Sumatran tiger conservation.
On Tuesday, all the lights collected so far were compacted into a huge bundle that will be taken to Calbag Metals Co. in Tacoma. The company strips out the copper wiring from the light strands and resells the valuable metal. The plastic coating on the light strands is sent to an overseas processor for recycling as well, said G.J. Neuneker of Calbag.
And what of Jessica Lam, the girl who ignited the recycling tradition? She’s now a 12-year-old student at Federal Way Public Academy and a Cadette Girl Scout.
She said Tuesday that she hopes the idea can continue to grow.
“I hope it can go beyond Federal Way and other places in Washington, and later in the future it can work around the world,” she said.