Teen recycles holiday lights, then donates proceeds

Jessica Lam is collecting light strands for recycling. Proceeds from the lights go toward several local causes. One collection spot is set up in Lam
Jessica Lam is collecting light strands for recycling. Proceeds from the lights go toward several local causes. One collection spot is set up in Lam's grandmother's yard. Part of Diane Cole's Christmas yard decorations is a wagon full of lights ready to be recycled. The proceeds from the lights in the wagon will go to Nautilus Elementary School.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard, The Mirror

For Federal Way Public Academy student Jessica Lam, bundles of recycled Christmas lights translate into bundles of money donated to local causes.

Lam began the Holiday Lights Recycling Program nearly three years ago when she was a fourth-grader at Nautilus Elementary. The undertaking continues to grow larger each year, mom Danette Lam said.

"Each year we've kind of added more places they can be dropped off," Lam said.

The Lams set up collection bins in schools and around Federal Way. Light strands can be dropped off at each location through Jan. 15 or the end of the school year at participating schools. The lights are then recycled. The full proceeds go toward several projects.

Some of the donated lights are still useable. A portion of these go to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. The zoo also collects ropes of lights. The money from the recycled products goes into the zoo's conservation fund. The zoo staff hopes to collect 10,000 strings of lights this holiday season, according to its Web site,

Proceeds from other recycled lights are donated to Nautilus Elementary. Jessica no longer goes to Nautilus, but her cousins attend the elementary school. A collection bin is set up at the school, 1000 S. 289th St. Diane Cole, Jessica's grandmother, is also collecting lights in a utility wagon in her yard, at 905 S. 293rd Place.

Last year, Jessica and her family collected roughly $474 for Nautilus. In the 2008-2009 holiday season, 677 pounds of lights were recycled to benefit the school, according to Jessica's Web site, The year before, the Lam family raised $300 from the recycled light strands, Danette Lam said.

This year, a collection bin is also located at the Federal Way Public Academy. The proceeds from the lights gathered there will be put toward a community service project.

Light strands are being collected at Federal Way retail stores. Proceeds will go to World Vision, Lam said. Displaying collection bins are Wal-Mart, at 1900 S. 314th St., Wal-Mart Supercenter, at 34520 16th Ave. S., and Top Food and Drug, 31515 20th Ave. S. Last year, 4,543 pounds of lights were donated to local retailers for recycling, according to the Web site. The lights raised $3,180 for World Vision.

Other nearby Christmas light recycling projects have started in the time Jessica has dedicated herself to the cause. Jessica helped start the Point Defiance holiday lights recycling program.

Brothers Holiday Lighting is also collecting light strands through Jan. 15 for recycling. The lights are gathered at the McLendon hardware stores in Kent, Renton and select other locations in the region. Proceeds go to the Moyer Foundation and Project Kids Art. The new programs are taking some of the collection pressure off of Jessica and her family.

"It got a little overwhelming last year," Lam said.

To learn more about donating lights to be recycled, visit these Web sites:

• Holiday Lights Recycling Program:

• Brothers Holiday Lighting:

• Point Defiance Holiday Lights Recycling Program:

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