Heights string-light recycling benefits zoo

Joe Kickel, Catalina Wagers, Tony Torres, and Clay Hairstone at the Cleveland Heights Service Center loading boxes of lights and cords for delivery.

From Dec. 26 through Jan. 31, Heights residents were invited to recycle damaged holiday string lights and extension cords to benefit the Cleveland Zoo’s Lights for Lions conservation program.

“Our residents' response was extraordinary,” said Joe Kickel, Cleveland Heights’ assistant public works director. “We collected close to 1,200 pounds of lights, far exceeding any expectations.”

The Cleveland Heights Green Team organized the collection drive in partnership with Heights Libraries and the Cleveland Heights Department of Public Works. Collection boxes were placed at all four libraries in Cleveland Heights and University Heights, and at the Cleveland Heights Service Center on Superior Road.

“We initially planned to empty the collection boxes once a week and store the lights at the transfer station. We ended up emptying boxes every two or three days throughout the entire month. It was a bit overwhelming, and exciting at the same time,” said Catalina Wagers, co-founder of the Cleveland Heights Green Team. 

On Feb. 9, Tony Torres, the city’s refuse and recycling coordinator, and Clay Hairston, foreman, loaded and dropped off at the zoo two pallets filled with lights.

“We are so grateful to all the residents of Cleveland Heights,” said Nancy Hughes, the zoo's manager of sustainability. “This is our third year collecting lights for recycling. In our first year we collected 1.7 tons, last year it increased to approximately 4 tons, and we think this year we have doubled that number.” 

The conservation program benefits lions and cheetahs in Tanzania, but also diverts thousands of pounds of lights and cords from the landfill. According to Hughes, the lights and cords are transported and sold to DeMilta Iron and Metal Recycling in Willoughby, where the materials are separated and recycled. 

“We are energized and inspired by the community’s response,” said Wagers. “We perceive it as a clear message that our residents embrace and support our vision for a greener, healthier Heights. It validates our belief in the idea that by working together we can take positive steps to ease our impact on the environment.

“We are currently working with MedWish on our next drive. We will be collecting discarded medical supplies and equipment that will be repurposed to provide humanitarian aid to people in need.”

The MedWish drive is planned for April, as part of the Earth Month in the Heights initiative. For details, visit www.chgreenteam.org.

Natalie Elwell

Natalie Elwell is director of gender equity practice at World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C. She lives in Cleveland Heights, and is co-founder of the Cleveland Heights Green Team.

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Volume 15, Issue 3, Posted 11:20 AM, 02.28.2022