NorthWestern Energy is replacing 43,000 streetlights across Montana with efficient LED lights. Part of that project includes recycling the old high-pressure sodium streetlights. So far, the company has recycled close to 2,500 lights.

NorthWestern Energy is working with Four Corners Recycling in Bozeman. Four Corners recycles all parts of the old lights, including the metal heads, the glass lenses and the bulbs, some of which contain mercury.

Streetlight replacement and recycling is taking place in Billings and Helena. Next year, streetlights in Butte, Bozeman, Missoula and Havre will be replaced and recycled. In 2021, the project will move to Great Falls.

NorthWestern Energy has been evaluating LED streetlights for several years. Recent price decreases make them more cost effective. Also, manufacturers of current high-pressure sodium products have indicated those products may not be readily available at some point in the future with the increasing popularity of LEDs.

The streetlight recycling program was initiated by employees in the Leadership NorthWestern program who pitched the idea. They solicited proposals from vendors and selected to Four Corners Recycling. The company’s proposal was all-inclusive and includes working with Helena Recycling and Earth First Aid in Billings.

“Up to 15 milligrams of mercury could be contained in just one high-pressure sodium light bulb,” said NorthWestern Energy Engineer Dustin Kaste, who was part of the employee team that recommended the recycling project. “Seems relatively minute, but when looking at it on a grander scale, you can see how quickly this hazardous material would add up to become an environmental concern.”

The recycling project will cost $120,000, or $2.90 a fixture. Of that, $2 pays for the certified packing and shipping of the mercury-filled bulbs.