Unboxing your old Christmas lights is a lot like gambling: you might find neatly folded strands of sparkling lights, or you might pull out strands of tangled wires and broken bulbs. Chances are, however, there’s a light or two that just doesn’t want to shine.
Whatever the cause may be - should you decide to get rid of a strand of lights, learning the proper way to recycle Christmas lights can have a very large positive impact on people and the environment.
What Should I Do With Old Christmas Lights?
If you can’t decide whether to toss your old Christmas lights into the trash or into your recycling bin - there’s a good reason why: Christmas lights shouldn’t be placed in either one! However, if you must dispose of them at your household, do not place them in your recycling.
Don't Dump Them in the Trash
First off, do not discard your old Christmas lights in the trash if you can avoid it! We understand that your trash is usually the most convenient way of disposal, but CFLs, twinkle lights, and incandescent and fluorescent bulbs may contain mercury and lead.
Don't Put Them in the Recycling Bin
No matter what, do not add holiday lights to your recycling bin with other everyday household items, like cans, plastic bottles, or paper! Light strands contain several materials, including glass, metal, and plastic that recycling facilities aren’t equipped to handle and sort.
What Happens When Christmas Lights Go Through Recycling?
When Christmas lights make their way into the recycling facility, they get tangled in the equipment. These unruly wires can tangle the thousands of spinning discs (the automated robot hands) that segregate different items at the recycling center. Your broken and tangled cords can cause million-dollar recycling facilities to stop production and get you featured on the Holiday Recycling Fails board of shame.
Please consider that once the recycling stream is stopped, workers have to climb onto the discs and manually remove the tangled lights. If you aren't sure if a particular item can be recycled, use this holiday recycling checklist to verify if it is safe for recycling.
So, what's the best way to dispose of old lights?
Let's explore the different options for Christmas lights recycling.
- Local Waste & Recycling Facility
- Local Events
- Home Improvement & Hardware Stores
- Family & Friends
Local Waste & Recycling Facility
If fixing your old lights isn't an option, then connect with your local recycling facility and find out whether they accept broken holiday lights for recycling. Some recycling centers dismantle and strip the lights and send each component for recycling, while others use third-party contractors to recycle old lights and get them back into the manufacturing chain. Your local government authority or municipal solid-waste office can direct you to the best local recycling facilities.
Go to your internet browser and type "recycling center" + "[city name]" to locate recycling options near you.
Here's an example:
It’s a common occurrence to see businesses host recycling events throughout the year, and Christmas time is no different. Look for businesses that are hosting drop-off locations or running a seasonal event for old Christmas lights. Go to their events page or social media and check their list of acceptable items.
Home Improvement & Hardware Stores
Hardware stores sometimes have a recycling drop-off point where you can drop your old broken lights. If you're heading to a local hardware store to purchase new lights, be sure to check if they accept old broken lights.
Does Lowe's or Home Depot Recycle Old Christmas Lights?
Big brand retailers like Lowe's, The Home Depot, True Value, and Ace Hardware accept your broken Christmas lights for recycling during the holiday season - and sometimes offer promotions to encourage customers to swap their old incandescents for energy-efficient LEDs. Some stores accept faulty lights throughout the year, while others have specific dates. Make sure to check with your local store for drop-off locations and dates.
Giving your old lights a new home is always a good idea. We highly recommend donating old Christmas lights in working condition to local charities. This is an excellent way to give back to the less fortunate, light up the community, and reduce waste.
Thrift stores like Goodwill take old working lights. Check with your local Goodwill or thrift store to find out if they will accept your old lights as donations. Habitat for Humanity and The Salvation Army are other notable options for donating Christmas lights.
Family & Friends
If your lights still work, you can give the old lights to someone who can use them. Check with your friends and family to see if anyone needs an extra set of fairy lights. Young couples, or students living in dorms, could use your old lights to brighten their trees. You can gift your old lights and other gently used decorations as an early holiday gift and spread some Christmas cheer.
If you cannot find a hardware store or local recycling facility that accepts your old Christmas lights, it's time to head to the post office. All you've got to do is pack and ship your old lights in a box to either one of the following companies.
Christmas Light Source
The Christmas Light Source runs a Christmas Light Recycling Program that accepts old and broken Christmas lights, recycles them, and uses the proceeds to buy toys and books for less advantaged children. The program distributes the toys and books through the DFW Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. This program is available throughout the year, and you even get a 10% rebate coupon for new lights in exchange for your old ones.
Holiday LEDs accept both LED and incandescent lights for recycling throughout the year. The lights are stripped into components at a third-party recycling facility. Every box you send in earns a 15% discount for new lights at the store.
How to Reuse Your Christmas Lights
When you throw your old Christmas lights in the trash, know that you're sending them to a landfill where they'll sit for years, leaching toxic chemicals into the soil and water. To avoid that, use these ideas to reuse or “upcycle” them.
Here are three simple Christmas crafts that help give a new life to your old lights:
1. Spray-paint old lights into a beautiful Christmas garland to add to your mantle.
2. Convert your old vintage, incandescent Christmas bulbs that no longer work into
hand-painted ornaments to add to your tree.
3. Use mod podge, glitter, and a bit of twine to transform your old bulbs into
beautiful handmade ornaments, a perfect handmade holiday gift!