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Recycling and reusing old holiday light strings

Karen from the Seattle, Washington area is looking for some ideas on recycling holiday light strings:

I want to know if you know where I can recycle Xmas lights.  We have about four long strings that fill up a moving box and I can’t imagine tossing it in the garbage.  I’ve found places to mail them but that would cost a fortune – the box is HEAVY!  So I am wondering if there are any retailers or places we could go drop them off…any info you could provide would be super helpful.  Thank you!

As for places to mail them, Earth911.com suggests HolidayLEDs.com, which will recycle your lights for free (but you're on the hook for the cost of mailing them to the company in Michigan). A couple of things to consider. While they may not be hot sellers on craigslist.org (I tried to sell some of my in-great-condition working incandescent icicle strings this year and got nary a bite), if you're offering them for free via craigslist or freecycle, you might find more takers. As we witnessed in our post about holiday LED lights, not many people are enamored of the new LED technology yet. So there are people out there who may want your old lights even if you don't. We also learned that really handy people can repair old lights (let's have a hallelujah chorus for: REUSE). It's always important to consider REUSE before RECYCLING. Mine ultimately ended up at my husband's office where they like a festive holiday atmosphere (and damn the electricity draw!!).

If you do opt for recycling, check your options. Here in Portland, I've seen notices that vendors such as Home Depot (who want to sell LED strings) have hosted sales where they will recycle your old strings if you're buying some new LEDs. As far as I know, the valuable part that's being recycled in the light strings is the copper wire. So scrap metal recyclers may be interested as well. The tricky thing about recycling is that it's always based on local markets. Call around. Check with your local recycling agencies. Depending on who you pick to recycle the lights (if you can't find anyone who will reuse them), you may find that they really only want the wire, so if you remove and trash the bulbs that may cut down on mailing costs.

Specifically for Karen, start with the King County Solid Waste Info Line: 206-296-4466. My understanding is that this is the program that supports Seattle's Master Recyclers, which then spawned the Portland Master Recyclers (of which I'm honored to be part).

Has anyone recently recycled holiday light strings and have any wisdom to share?

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