ZooLights gets greener - and more colorful too

December 10, 2013 - 12:56pm

Holiday tradition features a million LEDs; visitors can recycle old lights at zoo

ZooLights is both brighter and greener this year.

Since 2000, the Oregon Zoo has been upgrading its spectacular holiday light display with an eye to the future — gradually switching from conventional incandescent lights to highly efficient LEDs, which use a fraction of the energy and last far longer.

This year's ZooLights, presented by Toyota with support from The Boeing Company, adds even more new diodes, adding up to more than a million LEDs out of the nearly 1.5 million lights on display. LEDs use about 10 to 25 percent of the power of standard holiday lights. With an expected life of at least 25,000 hours — 20 times that of conventional light strings — this year's new lights could last for another quarter-century or beyond.

"Every year we're making ZooLights more sustainable for the next generation of visitors," said event coordinator Russell Guinn, who has overseen the seasonal spectacle since 1992. "The sparkling LEDs that kids are enjoying this year could still be glowing when they bring their own kids to enjoy ZooLights years from now."

The ZooLights visit has become a favorite holiday tradition for many Portland-area families over the past quarter-century. Over the past two years alone, more than a quarter million people came to see ZooLights' life-size animal silhouettes, moving sculptures and forests of lighted trees. This year's display promises a more immersive experience, with a continuous loop around the zoo through areas that haven't been lit up before. One spectacular new section in the zoo's Africa Rainforest area features a twisting 100-foot-long rainbow-colored tunnel of light.

According to Guinn, few visitors notice the change to LEDs, which give off a slightly different glow than standard holiday lights. Additionally, LEDs do not lose their color over time. Since the diodes themselves create the colors, rather than painted bulbs, old LED strings remain as colorful as the day they were purchased.

"ZooLights is a showcase of what people can do with efficient lights in their own homes," Guinn said. "LED string lights use a fraction of the power consumed by traditional string lights, but they're just as beautiful. Anyone who wants to decorate for the holidays can save money and protect the environment by switching to LEDs."

Visitors who switch to LEDs at home can help make a difference at the zoo as well. Throughout the run of ZooLights, the zoo will be collecting old holiday light strings for recycling. These donated lights won't be used at ZooLights; rather, all collected lights will be recycled into their component parts, including copper wires. Since 2008, the sale of the salvaged copper in the wires has generated more than $3,500 for American Association of Zoo Keepers programs advancing animal care and supporting conservation.

Thanks to our ZooLights sponsors: