Fort St. John recycles 850 pounds of inefficient holiday lights in one day

The Fort St. John Winterlights Celebration's ice carving and "Best Decked" contests may be highlights of the annual festival, but an energy-efficiency initiative is threatening to steal the show.

The city's third annual Winterlights Light Exchange, held on November 26, collected a whopping 850 pounds of energy-wasting incandescent holiday lights. They'll be recycled as the city and its residents — who get one string of LED holiday lights as a thanks for dropping off the incandescents —  continue to make the switch to energy-efficient LEDs.

Another big winner in the lighting exchange is the local Home Hardware store, which uses the event to build relationships and create conservation marketing opportunities.

Many hands make light work

The Light Exchange is a collaboration between the Fort St. John Home Hardware Building Centre, the Northern Environmental Action Team (NEAT), and the City of Fort St. John.

For one day each November, the partners offer people a chance to recycle their incandescent holiday lights and receive one string of LED lights in exchange.

"It's a way to get people started and see the value in having [LEDs]," explains Karen Mason-Bennett, NEAT's Program Coordinator. "The fact that they last way longer and you don't have to climb on the roof to change bulbs in the middle of winter is appealing to most people."

The exchange has changed and grown each year.

In the past, BC Hydro has paid for recycling, NEAT has staffed the event and the City, in partnership with Home Hardware, has provided the lights.

For the past two years, the lights were shipped to a recycler in the Lower Mainland, but this year, the partners sourced local companies to separate the metal and crush the glass from the bulbs, as well as to strip the metal from the cords.

"We're trying to encourage more people to get into energy-efficient lighting," says Darlene Alexander, Marketing and Sales Manager for the Fort St. John Home Hardware. "So this year we matched all the LED light strings that the City purchased."

The benefits of collaboration

The benefits of this project are wide-reaching. Participants get to recycle their old lights and try out a new technology, NEAT gains face time with people in the community, and Home Hardware benefits from the exposure and promotion of a product they sell.

"It gets our name out there and lets the public know that we have these products," says Alexander. "I think that participation in things like this is important."

Alexander says that the partnership across sectors makes a big difference.

"If it was just us, it wouldn't have the draw that it does by having NEAT and the City and BC Hydro involved. It shows that everyone, the whole province, is interested in saving energy and cutting costs."

The partnership helps NEAT keep the event going each year. "It's something that we have been able to carry on in light of funding shortages that would have affected the program if we were on our own," says Alexander.

Lights are just the beginning

This past summer NEAT and Home Hardware also partnered together on a clothesline giveaway, building on the Light Exchange relationship.

"We love to do offshoot projects," says Alexander. "We are more than willing to take part in environmentally-focused partnerships."

As for NEAT, "We're in our third year now [of the Light Exchange], so it's a longer-lasting relationship," says Mason-Bennett. "We don't take it lightly. We want to ensure we give back as much as we can."