How to Recycle Your Christmas Lights

woman in pink sweater holds out bundle of glowing Christmas lights above full cardboard box

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

It doesn't feel right to put Christmas lights in a trash can. Maybe they've stopped working, or maybe you're replacing incandescent lights with safer, more energy-efficient LEDs. In any case, after brightening so many holiday seasons over the years, it can seem a little cold and unceremonious to just throw them away.

In fact, aside from the indignity, there are also more concrete reasons not to discard strands of Christmas lights with your garbage. Along with glass, plastic, and copper that could be recycled, for example, they often contain small amounts of lead, a toxic metal used in some polyvinyl chloride (PVC) wire coatings to boost flexibility.

Fortunately, we now have several options for recycling old Christmas lights, helping our hard-working bulbs and diodes avoid the landfill while also sparing the environment from their toxic and non-biodegradable components.

Try Local Authorities

public trash and recycling containers on urban city street

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

As a first step, you could check with your municipal solid-waste office or other local government authority, which might have the most up-to-date information about local options for recycling electronics. A solid-waste or recycling center might also be able to help. Even if electronics aren't accepted by your local curbside recycling program, some facilities accept old Christmas lights if you're willing to bring them in.

Ask Local Businesses

woman in pink sweater and pants pulls out strand of glowing Christmas lights from box

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

It may also be worth calling nearby hardware and home-improvement stores to see if they accept Christmas lights for recycling. Ask about coupons or other incentives, too, since a few stores—including Home Depot, Lowe's, and True Value—sometimes hold promotions to encourage swapping incandescents for LEDs.

If you live in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, or Washington, D.C., you could also take your unwanted Christmas lights to Mom's Organic Market during its annual Holiday Lights Recycling Drive. The grocery chain accepts any kind of holiday lights, working or not, and gives them to Maryland-based Capitol Asset Recycling, which breaks them down with smelting or shredding to recover raw materials.

Contact Online Businesses

woman in pink sweater holds cardboard box of christmas lights with label "for donation"

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

If it turns out personally delivering your lights for recycling would be too inconvenient or impractical, you may want to consider shipping them off to be recycled instead. Below are three U.S. companies that provide this service online, all of which offer discounts on new Christmas lights in exchange for your old ones.

Holiday LEDs

This Wisconsin company launched its Christmas lights recycling program in 2012. It accepts both incandescent and LED lights for recycling, a company representative tells MNN, and the program is open all year. It repays participants with a coupon for 15% off, while the lights go to a third-party recycling facility, which puts them into a commercial shredder. The pieces are processed and sorted into components like PVC, glass, and copper, which are then separated and sent to a regional center for further processing.

various trash bins including gray plastic container filled with dead christmas lights

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Environmental LED

Based in Michigan, this company also specializes in LEDs and runs a recycling program for Christmas lights. Just pack up your old lights in an otherwise empty cardboard box—no bags, ties, or other packing materials—and send them in to receive a coupon for 10% off new LEDs. The company takes your lights to its recycling center, where they're chopped into pieces and the cardboard shipping boxes are recycled. The pieces are then sorted into categories and recycled.

Christmas Light Source

In 2008, this Texas company formed a recycling center in Dallas capable of recycling glass, copper, and plastic from Christmas lights. The recycling center pays a small fee per pound of lights, and the company then uses all proceeds to buy books and toys, which it donates to Toys for Tots every December. Participants get a coupon for 10% off new lights.

hands compare different bundles of glowing LED Christmas lights

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Once you've parted ways with your old Christmas lights, you can help delay the demise of their replacements by opting for LEDs, which are more durable and longer-lasting than incandescent bulbs. Incandescents also release most of their energy as heat, which both wastes electricity and could create a fire hazard, especially if they're strung around a dried-out Christmas tree. LEDs, on the other hand, don't get hot or burn out, making them safer, more energy-efficient and lighter on the power bill.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What are Christmas lights made of?

    Christmas lights contain glass bulbs, metal filaments, plastic-coated metal contact wires, and some plastic.

  • How do you repair Christmas lights?

    Many have experienced the annoyance of a blacked-out section of Christmas tree lights. This is usually the result of a broken or loose bulb. It can easily be repaired by replacing that bulb—find out which it is by working your way down the line wiggling each one.

  • Should you put electrical items in the bin?

    While there are no laws forbidding throwing electronics in the trash, most things shouldn't be binned because parts of them can be used again. Christmas lights are a mix of glass, plastic, and copper, and each component is recyclable.

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