Christmas Lights Recycling Tips
Christmas holiday season is the time of the year when we get a surge of positive energy, spend time with our loved ones and show our festive spirit with decorations and presents. Decorating the house always brings some special feelings and fuels that festive Christmas spirit, but when the holiday season is over it is time to take them all down and put them away until the next season – a job no one is very enthusiastic to do. Besides being boring and time-consuming, taking down decorations also leaves a considerable amount of waste behind. After the holiday season, landfills get a new cargo of broken, old, even some unused decorations and lights.
Our urge to have the newest, the best and the trendiest goes beyond clothes, makeup, and technology. Every year millions of decorations and Christmas lights are being purchased just for the sake of novelty, while old ones usually end up in the trash. This produces an enormous amount of waste, which often ends up in landfills instead of getting recycled. Even if you don’t buy a new contingent of Christmas decorations every year and choose to reuse old ones instead, nothing lasts forever and some of them will eventually get broken. Most Christmas lights and decorations are made from cheap materials that are not made to last. At the end of the season, you’ll probably end up with a trash bag full of non-working or half-working lights and broken decorations, no matter how careful you are. This doesn’t indicate you should quit decorating your house altogether, but rather to be mindful of certain aspects of the problem.
Christmas Lights Environmental Concerns
Before you dispose of your old Christmas lights, there are some environmental concerns that need to be addressed. Most Christmas lights include CFLs or Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs. Even though CFLs are more efficient in terms of energy consumption compared to traditional lightbulbs, they present a potential environmental danger due to the fact that they contain mercury and lead. Mercury is a dangerous toxin that affects the nervous, digestive and immune systems, as well as lungs, kidneys, skin, and eyes. Once released into the environment, mercury can find its way into rivers and oceans, contaminating fish, shellfish and other marine wildlife that we and other animals use for food. Lead is also a very dangerous element that can cause a variety of negative health effects, such as abdominal pain, constipation, headache, memory loss, nausea, and depression. Lead is applied to the PVC coating on the wiring of Christmas lights to serve as a flame retardant and to protect the wires from heat and moisture. This is why it is advised to keep the lights away from children and to avoid touching them without gloves.
Considering that the majority of Christmas lights that get thrown away end up in landfills, they do not only pose a potential health hazard, but also a very harmful environmental hazard. Heavy metal pollution and contaminated soils are quite common occurrences in landfills and their vicinity, because a lot of products that contain hazardous substances (like lead and mercury) are disposed of there every day. How can we change this? The answer lies in the good old three Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle.
Reducing and reusing parts is quite clear – to cut down the amount of waste produced, instead of purchasing new lights every year use the ones you already have multiple times. Throw them away only if they are broken and cannot be fixed. But what about recycling? Considering that they include different parts and materials, Christmas lights can be tricky when it comes to recycling. The materials need to be adequately separated before processing, but regardless of this complication, many local municipal waste services and recycling companies will accept old Christmas lights for recycling. This is because the lights are made of materials that are highly valued by recyclers, like glass, copper, and lead.
Christmas Lights Recycling Tips
There are a couple of options when it comes to Christmas light recycling. If you wonder how and where to find such services, here are some suggestions:1. Reach out to your local municipal solid waste office. Most communities have their local recycling centers and they probably accept items like Christmas lights. Contact your town or city hall to find the exact location of the closest recycling center and dispose of your old lights there. Some communities even organize their own Christmas light recycling programs, so it’s also good to stay informed about this kind of local activities.
Depending on where you live, there also might be some grocery stores like MOM’s Organic Markets, that accept various hard-to-recycle products, including Christmas lights.
3. Mail-in recycling. There are various companies you can find online that accept old Christmas lights for recycling and offer discounts for the purchase of new ones. For example, there is a year-long active recycling program called Christmas Light Source based in Dallas, Texas, that accepts old Christmas lights for recycling and donates all proceeds to Toys for Tots.
4. Get LEDs instead of CFLs. LED lights consume significantly less energy than CFLs or any other type of lighting. They are very durable and do not contain toxic elements like mercury, making them an eco-friendlier and cheaper solution in the long run. There are LED manufacturing companies that offer discounts on their Christmas LED lights if you bring or mail them your old lights.
If you decide to send your old lights by mail, please use packaging materials that can be easily recycled (e.g. cardboard boxes) and make sure that the packaging is not significantly bigger than the content. It is also very useful and eco-friendly if you can collect old Christmas lights together with your friends, family and community members, and send them in a bulk to the chosen recycling company. This way shipping costs and carbon footprint of the entire process will be significantly reduced.
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