Recycle like A Pro with Our Eco Guide

Posted by claire@bigstarlights.com BigCommerce on 15th Sep 2021

Recycle like A Pro with Our Eco Guide

Upgrade your business practices with our eco-friendly tips for lighting installers this holiday season! Read our how-to guide on how to be greener.

The Situation:

It’s Christmas, and you’re working like crazy. Being eco-friendly in how you conduct your business may not be top of mind in the peak season, but it is evermore important and there are a few easy tricks you can employ to make your business a greener one.

1. Set up a waste separation area in your work vehicle(s).

Four universal categories to start with are paper, cardboard, plastic & tin, and landfill, but it can depend on your local recycling rules. Make sure all of your staff are up to date on waste sorting protocols according to your municipality, and set up appropriate recycling bins in your vehicles.

2. Offer your customers a takeaway service for their broken light strings to be recycled.

Lots of people don’t know that Christmas lights are recyclable! Providing this service prevents lights from ending up in the landfill, all while fostering a positive relationship with your clients. You’ll have to find a local depot that accepts Christmas lights to do this, and even some stores will accept them for recycling.

3. Use timers in your light installations.

There are a variety of timers on the market these days, all making it easy to turn off the lights after bedtime to save power and reduce the cost to your client and the environment. Newer technology using smart plugs also gives the owner control from their phone to turn the lights on and off, or create a lighting schedule. If you're a professional installer, you may not want to supply the timer unless you've found one you really trust. Often times, a finicky timer can mean more site visits to do repairs or replacements, resulting in more cost to you. Encourage your clients to use a timer, if they haven't already got one built into their outlet.

4. Plan, plan, plan!

You know the old saying “measure twice, cut once?” With more experience installing, you’ll gain a strong understanding of what you do and don’t need for an installation. While there’s always bound to be troubleshooting, the more you plan, the less product you risk wasting.

5. Recycle your old extension cables.

Most municipalities will have a recycling facility that takes extension cable clippings and worn-out cords. There's a chance you'll even be compensated for any valuable components!

Tips for Recycling & Sorting Waste

Below are some general recycling rules of thumb. Please keep in mind that recycling capacity is different from region to region, so it’s best to familiarize yourself with your local rules.

1. Small pieces of plastic = not recyclable.

Small pieces of plastic are not often accepted by municipal recycling programs because they get lost in machines or can jam them. A simple guideline to follow is if the piece of plastic is smaller than your palm - into the garbage it goes! If a piece of plastic has no visible recycling number on it, that will usually mean it is not recyclable.

  1. Zip tie clippings = not recyclable unless your waste removal service tells you otherwise. Waste stream
  2. Twist ties = non-recyclable, but can be practical for re-use on the job. They’re excellent for fixing our microlights or mini-lights discreetly to topiaries and boxwood hedges as an alternative to zip ties, which could damage the plant when you remove them

There are all sorts of new technologies popping up to deal with plastic waste, like the Precious Plastic Pro Machines, which shred plastic into re-usable material for 3-D printing purposes. There’s a chance someone with a shredding machine is operating in your city and will take your plastic waste!

2. Soft plastics need special treatment

Most municipalities don’t accept soft plastic polybags in curbside recycling. Some cities have privately owned recycling depots, so it’s valuable to do a little research on this one. If you don’t find a solution in your area, they’re unfortunately headed to the landfill. This is why Big Star Lights is aiming to completely remove poly bags and other soft plastics from our supply chain! Since 2018, we have removed more than a million pieces of soft plastic from the waste stream!

3. Styrofoam should be kept out of the landfill if possible

Properly known as Expanded Polystyrene Foam (or EPS), styrofoam is unfortunately quite rarely taken by municipalities in curbside recycling. In 2012, it was estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency that less than 4% of styrofoam was recycled in the USA. Instead, it sits in landfills where it never breaks down! If you come across styrofoam on the job, inquire with your local government about how to recycle it, or use this handy map provided by the Food Packaging Institute to see how you can recycle EPS in your area.

4. Re-use or recycle your metal

If you use steel aircraft cable like our ⅛ inch wire rope, it is likely for a permanent installation, but in case you do end up taking it down, it can either be re-used or recycled and often you’ll be compensated for it! You can even recycle steel as small as staples. We’d recommend having a larger tin to collect staples into, and you can use a rolling magnet to make collecting them easier.

5. Tape is destined for the landfill

If you find yourself using lots of tape - from packing tape to electrical tape - it’s non-recyclable and should be thrown away. Most municipal recycling facilities will filter packing tape out of the cardboard recycling process, but be sure you don’t have long strips hanging off of your cardboard boxes as it can cause tangling in their machines.

We hope these tips inspire you to take the small steps to reduce your footprint on the job! Do you have any recycling tips or tricks that you've developed, or other ideas about working sustainability in the Christmas lights industry? We'd love to talk about it with you!