So you have strands of Christmas lights that don’t work anymore. Or maybe they’re so tangled you can’t put them up anywhere. Or maybe you’ve finally replaced your strings of large incandescent lights that use so much electricity. How do you dispose of Christmas lights you can’t use anymore?
Several years ago, I wrote a post on recycling Christmas lights. I had to take it down because so many of the links went dead. Much has changed since then, so it seems a good time to take another look.
But first, here’s what not to do.
- Don’t put them in the trash. They’ll just take up valuable landfill space and waste valuable commodities.
- Don’t put them in your recycling bin for pickup. Any kind of cords, hoses, wire, or anything else long and bendy will get tangled in the rotating machinery at the recycling facility. Strings of Christmas lights will break expensive equipment and endanger the health of the people who work on the line.
How does Christmas light recycling work?
Strings of Christmas lights are copper wire enclosed in a coating of polyvinyl chloride (the plastic with the number 3 in the recycling triangle) fitted with sockets. Nowadays, most of the bulbs are LEDs. Some people consider LEDs unpleasantly bright, so it’s still possible to get incandescent bulbs. The newer ones use less electricity than the older ones.
You may have some older lights made of glass that you don’t want any more.
Recycling Christmas lights requires shredding the strings (with bulbs) into small pieces and separating them into the copper and various plastics. Once separated, these materials become raw material for making new products. The plastic, for example, may turn into slipper soles.
Some American companies do this work, but most of it happens in Shijao, China, the Christmas light recycling capital of the world.
What are my options to dispose of Christmas lights?
You can either take them somewhere, or mail them somewhere.
If you live in Minnesota, its counties and vocational centers operate a program called Recycle Your Holidays. Between the middle of November and the end of January, you can take your Christmas lights to designated drop-off centers.
The work of shredding them and separating the different components will be done by disabled people in vocational centers in the state. This program keeps money and jobs in the state.
More generally, check your own state’s requirements for how to dispose of Christmas lights and others.
Otherwise, more and more large chains offer Christmas light recycling, including:
- Home Depot, Lowes, and perhaps other home improvement centers
- Some Ace, Tru Value, or other hardware stores. Check with stores near you.
Perhaps none of these options work for you. In that case, you can mail your broken Christmas lights to a company that will see that they get recycled. If you want to get new lights, it might be worth mailing them just to get the significant discount that some of these companies offer:
Besides Christmas lights, BulbCycle also accepts fluorescent tubes, CFLs, and ballasts, as well as mercury devices, e-waste, smoke detectors, exit signs, and more.
A better way
Recycling Christmas lights is better than putting them in the trash, but if the lights still work, you can do better. Keep using them. If you no longer like them and want a different look, see if any of your friends want the old ones. Or donate them to a thrift store so someone can have lights who can’t afford to buy them new.