Replacing old compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and fluorescent light strips with LED lights is an environmental and money-saving decision. The same goes for holiday lights and strands, even if you only use them for a few weeks out of a year and they continue to work. LEDs are more durable, don't heat up like other types of lights, and don't use glass, meaning you won't be shattering a few lights each year.
However, if you decide to switch to LEDs, what do you do with those old bulbs and Christmas lights? First off, don't just discard them in the trash. Twinkle lights, CFLs, fluorescent bulbs, and incandescents should be recycled. CFLs contain mercury, so if they are not properly discarded, they can break and release small amounts of mercury into the environment. Light strands might also contain lead, which is in some polyvinyl chloride (PVC) wire coverings to make them more flexible and less likely to crack.
Established light recycling programs know what to do with old, used, and even broken lights. Some offer free trade-ins or discounts on new LED holiday lights. If you can't find a store or local program that recycles lights, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises checking with a regional or state environmental regulatory agency to see if it's OK for you to put used or broken CFLs in the regular household trash. If so, seal the bulb tightly in a plastic bag and place it into the trash for the next trash collection.
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City and Local Programs (In-Person)
The EPA recommends using a local program or service for recycling lights and other materials and products because most are easy and convenient. Check with your city or local government office for information on recycling programs. Some cities offer curbside recycling programs, while others have special days or events dedicated to recycling or repurposing, such as an "all-city shredding party."
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MOM's Organic Market accepts items such as cell phones, batteries, eye glasses, and corks in its recycling center. Every winter, market locations also accept holiday lights—working and nonworking—for recycling. The lights are broken down to recover raw commodities that are then used for roofing, construction, piping, electronics, and other materials.
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Recycling those hard-to-handle 8-foot-long fluorescent tube lights is a smoother and easier task with Bulbcycle. For a fee, the company will send you a box or container for the specific light you want to discard. Bulbcycle also recycles batteries and smoke detectors, among other products.
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Holiday LEDs accepts holiday lights and strands throughout the year, not just at Christmas time. The company requests that you package the lights carefully and send them to its Wisconsin headquarters. When the lights arrive, the lights are removed from their packaging and processed. Any materials that can't be recycled are discarded, and the lights are taken to a third-party recycling facility in Jackson, Mississippi, where they are chopped into small pieces. The pieces are sorted and taken to a regional center for further processing.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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If you send your unwrapped strings of old incandescent holiday lights to Environmental LED in Michigan, the company will recycle them for you and then send you a coupon for 10 percent off a future purchase. The company chops the lights up, sorts them into various components such as copper, glass, and PVC, and then recycles appropriately.
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Box up your broken Christmas lights, and send them to Christmas Light Source in Texas. If you send them your name and email address, the company will send you a coupon for 10 percent off a future order of Christmas Lights. The company recycles the light and uses the proceeds to purchase books, toys, games, and puzzles, which are then donated to Marine Toys for Tots.