In 2018, American households generated 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste, 23.7 million tons more than the previous year. This included daily items like single-use plastics and food waste, and objects like holiday lights, which break from time to time, and which we often decide to upgrade and replace.
It may surprise you to know that you can recycle Christmas lights, and we’ll explain how in this article!
Why is it important to recycle Christmas lights?
It’s important to recycle Christmas lights for a number of reasons.
Those magical twinkling lights are made from several non-biodegradable components, mostly plastic, glass, and copper. Therefore, they take decades, if not hundreds of years to break down if sent to landfill.
Worse still, the light bulbs can also contain toxic metals. Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) can contain mercury that can be released into the environment when the bulbs are broken. With all types of outdoor holiday lights, animals and birds can get tangled in the string.
Furthermore, Christmas lights often don’t last very long – once one light breaks or stops working you may need to throw the whole string of lights out. For all of these reasons, it’s important to know how to responsibly dispose of or recycle Christmas lights.
Can you recycle Christmas lights?
Christmas lights are not easy to recycle, as they are made of a mix of glass, copper, and plastic (and sometimes other materials too). Although these are valuable components, there are not many recycling centers that are able to handle this combination of materials.
However, it is possible to recycle Christmas lights, and you can find facilities and programs that do just this, though it may take a bit of effort.
Recycling facilities usually shred the lights and separate them into their different components, such as glass, PVC, and copper. Usually, each of these materials can be recycled separately, though sometimes the PVC components are not recyclable.
Be careful when prepping your old lights for recycling, especially if they have CFL bulbs. These are not common anymore, but some older light strings may be made with CFLs.
This type of light bulb can contain mercury which is terrible for the environment, and may release toxic chemicals if broken, so handle with care! For more info on this, see our article on how to recycle light bulbs.
Check with your local authorities
Very few, if any, municipal waste services accept Christmas lights in, or any type of light bulbs, in their curbside recycling programs. However, most localities will take hard-to-recycle items such as periodically.
They may run specific pick ups on certain dates or by booking, or may run drives at certain times of the year with specific drop off locations. Contact your local waste management authority and check if, when, and how they take Christmas lights for recycling.
They may take lights in any condition, or could accept unbroken ones only, so be sure to check this also.
Check with local businesses
Some big box stores and local retailers will accept and recycle Christmas lights for you. Some businesses also offer promotions such as coupons as incentive for bringing in your old lights.
Several hardware retailers take Christmas lights for recycling, including The Home Depot, Ace Hardware, and Lowe’s. Contact your local store to check for drop-off locations and preparation instructions.
Donate to thrift stores
If your lights are not broken and are still in good working order, you may be able to donate them to a local thrift store. Not only is this an excellent way to give your old lights a second life and keep them out of landfill, the organization can also sell them to help fund their worthy projects.
For obvious reasons, thrift stores will only accept fully working lights, so check your old lights to make sure they are still in good working order before dropping them off.
Goodwill and The Salvation Army are two large charities that run thrift stores across the USA. Many local shelters, libraries, and other non-profits also have thrift stores as a way to raise money for their programs.
Do some research online and a thrift store near you, or a charity drop off bin in your area. Be sure to contact your local branch first to check whether they’ll accept and recycle Christmas lights, and whether you need to package them in a certain way before dropping them off.
Check with your local MOMs organic
If you want to recycle Christmas lights that you no longer have any use for, MOM’s Organic Market runs a recycling program specifically designed to accept items that are difficult to recycle and that aren’t typically accepted in municipal recycle programs. They accept certain items daily, such as cell phones, tablets, batteries, eye glasses, old shoes, natural cork, and compost.
Although Christmas lights is not only this list, they do run annual drives for other materials, including holiday lights, whether they’re working or not. They’ll hand over your old lights to Capital Asset Recycling, which recycles them into products such as roofing, construction materials, electronics, piping, and jewelry.
Their annual holiday light drive usually runs every winter, from early December to late January, giving you the opportunity for a clear out either before or after the holidays.
Unfortunately, this is only an option for people in some states, as the brand only has stores in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. If you live in one of those states, you can check their locations here. Get in touch with your local store and see when their next Christmas lights drive is.
Where to recycle Christmas lights online
There are a few lighting ecommerce stores that will recycle Christmas lights that you take to them, and some will even give you a discount off your next purchase.
One such program is Holiday LED’s Christmas Light Recycling Program. The company will take your old and broken lights, sort them into their various components and take all recyclable materials to a third-part recycling facility.
To use this service:
- Box up your lights – be sure to choose a sturdy box made of recyclable material!
- Don’t include any packaging or plastic bags, not even the retail box the lights came in (you’ll probably be able to recycle this separately – see our guide to recycling cardboard boxes).
- Ship the box to Holiday LEDs in Wisconsin – you’ll find the address here. Alternatively, if you live in the area you can drop your lights off at their Sussex location.
Unlike annual drives or quarterly drop-off programs, Holiday LED’s service runs year-round, so you can send in your lights at any time. Be sure to pack your lights in the smallest, lightest box and send it by the slowest and cheapest method so you’ll save on shipping!
It’s also a good idea to ask friends and family members if they have any Christmas lights to recycle – you’ll get the most out of what you’re paying for shipping, while making sure that their lights are disposed of in a responsible way!
Once you send in your Christmas lights, in return the company will give you a coupon that you can use on their ecommerce site.
Christmas Light Source
Christmas Light Source also has a program to recycle Christmas lights. All you need to do is box up your old, broken, or otherwise not-needed lights and mail them to the company.
Not only will Christmas Light Source recycle Christmas lights, but they use the money they make from the process to buy books, games, and toys which they donate to the DFW Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.
They’ll also give you a code to get a 10% discount off your next purchase of lights.
Environmental LED is another company that will take your old incandescent Christmas lights for recycling. Like the other two programs mentioned above, they will also give you a coupon for 10% off once you send in your lights.
This works in a similar way to the programs above, in that you mail in your lights without any extras or packaging to the company’s site in Missouri. They recycle cardboard shipping boxes but won’t take retail boxes, bags, ties, reels, packing peanuts, or paper packaging.
You just need to include your full name and email address with the shipment and they’ll email you a coupon.
Final thoughts: you should recycle Christmas lights whenever you need new ones
It’s easier than you might think to recycle Christmas lights. If your local waste authority doesn’t accept holiday lights, you can most recycle them through a hardware store, MOMs Organic Market, or through an online lighting retailer.
It’s important to dispose of your old lights responsibly, but you should also consider the environment when you purchase replacement holiday lights. The most sustainable choice are LEDs, as they last longer, are more durable, and more energy-efficient than other types of light bulbs. You can also purchase solar Christmas lights that will put no additional burden on your electricity bill.
By making smart purchases and making a commitment to recycle Christmas lights whenever you need to replace them, you can enjoy a magical, eco-friendly Christmas!
If you’ve enjoyed this article, be sure to share it with your eco-conscious friends!