Do you have old strings of lights that are damaged? Have you changed the style you use, perhaps by switching to LEDs? If so, you probably want to look into ways to recycle those lights you no longer want; they don't have to go to landfill!
There are a number of programs which handle Christmas light recycling; these are just some of them.
Local Programs in the U.S.
St. Louis Green Holiday Light Recycling Drive
"A portion of the proceeds from the 2011-2012 Holiday Light Recycling Drive will go to Operation Food Search to feed the hungry." The program runs at 58 Walmart Stores from Nov. 19 through Dec. 4, 2011 and at other locations from Nov. 19, 2011 through Jan. 31, 2012.
Recycle Your Holidays (Minnesota)
"Recycle Your Holidays is a one-of-a-kind statewide holiday light recycling program in Minnesota. Residents can drop-off their unwanted light strands at one of our 400+ participating locations during the holiday season starting November 15 and running through the end of January each year.
"This program employs over 200 individuals with developmental disabilities at vocational centers throughout the state of Minnesota. Every bulb of the light strand is dismantled by vocational center clients and then properly recycled in Minnesota."
Elgin Recycling's Holiday Lights Recycling Program (in Lisle and other villages/cities in Illinois)
"Lisle has partnered with Elgin Recycling who will strip the lights and recycle both the copper and plastic materials. No parts will be shipped overseas." The Lisle program runs from Dec. 3 through the end of February 2012.
Crown Ace Hardware and 1-800-GOT-SCRAP in Southern California
"Throwing away those old light strands is... well, not green - which means, that's not the holiday spirit. All that plastic and wire pretty much never decomposes - so when you throw it in the garbage, it goes to the landfill, and sits there... maybe forever." This program will "swap your old lights for a $5 gift certificate redeemable for purchases over $20."
4H in Henderson County, North Carolina
This program was launched by Victoria Cambron, a 14-year-old member of Henderson County’s 4H Leaders-In-Training club. She says, "We collected 213 pounds of lights last Christmas season. The monies collected were donated to Bounty of Bethlehem and St. Gerard House in Hendersonville. It was great to keep the lights out of the landfills but it was even better to be able to give the money to two very worthy causes in our own community." Lights are being collected again this year; the dates aren't mentioned.
Various places in the San Francisco Bay Area, per RecycleWorks
RecycleWorks lists places in San Francisco, Oakland and Redwood City where you can bring in light strands.
Mail-In Programs in the U.S.
"Send us your old Christmas lights for recycling and we'll send you a coupon good for 25% off HolidayLEDs.com LED Christmas lights."
The company explains exactly what is done with the old lights: "When we receive your lights for recycling we will remove them from the package and recycle the box. The lights will be processed and any material that cannot be recycled (i.e. loose bulbs) is discarded. Once we have collected a substantial number of sets we take them to a 3rd party recycling facility located in Jackson, MI. The recycling company puts the lights through a commercial shredder, which chops the lights up into little pieces. The pieces are then further processed and sorted into the various components that make up the lights (pvc, glass, copper.) The materials are separated and transported to a region center for further processing. In some cases, the pvc cannot be recycled."
This company offers a coupon for 10% off when you mail in your lights for recycling.
Five Star Holiday Décor
"We will send you a coupon for 10% off any of our Five Star services and we will also donate a portion of any proceeds to Toys for Tots."
Christmas Light Source Recycling Program
This company will email you a discount code good for 10% off a single order of Christmas lights.
And here's what they do with the lights:
We've found a local recycling company who will take your lights and recycle the copper, glass and plastic. They pay a small amount per pound of lights - like the money you get for aluminum cans - which we thought we'd put that to good use for you. By sending us your lights, you can join a force for literacy!
All proceeds from the Christmas lights recycling program will be used to purchase Usborne books that will be donated to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.
Since Usborne Books offers a 50% match on donations, for every $100 in proceeds from Christmas lights recycling, $150 in fun, educational children's books will be purchased and donated to the Dallas/Fort Worth Marine Toys for Tots center.
How cool is that?
Beyond the U.S.
U.K. options per Recycle Now
Can Christmas tree lights be recycled? Recycle Now says yes. "They are accepted at recycling centres. Some councils have special collection bins for small electrical items at other sites too, e.g. supermarket car parks."
Peachland, British Columbia, Canada
"By recycling your old lights instead of tossing them out, you're not only saving space in our landfills, but recycling a valuable resource that can be smelted into new metal."
Regional Waste Reduction Office, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada (PDF)
"The strings brought to the depots are picked up by Planet Earth Recycling Ltd, delivered to Davis Trading in Vancouver, baled and exported for processing where the copper is recovered for new use in wiring and plumbing."
Anyone have information about other Christmas light recycling programs — perhaps in your part of the world?
Update on Dec. 28, 2011: Read about the Chinese factories that recycle these lights into slipper soles and more.