Don’t Throw Your Old Christmas Lights in the Trash—Do This Instead
Don’t just toss your holiday lights into the trash or recycling bin. Instead, learn how to recycle Christmas lights the right way, and give them a chance at a new life.
If you’ve been throwing your dead Christmas lights in the trash, we get it. After spending what seems like all 25 days of December checking every bulb or meticulously hanging holiday lights only to have them go dark mid-Yuletide, few things feel as good as slam-dunking a ball of dead holiday lights in the trash bin. But as much relief as you might feel from jamming those wires and bulbs in the circular file, there are far better things to do with your dead holiday lights.
In some cases, you want to opt for a new design scheme, more energy-efficient lights, or some other change, and have working older lights you no longer need. After bringing your family holiday cheer for years, don’t your Christmas lights deserve better than the dump?
What’s in a set of holiday lights?
There are a lot of materials inside a set of Christmas lights that contribute to making your season bright. Holiday light strings contain plastic, glass, copper, and even lead, all of which can harm the environment. If you dispose of holiday lights in the trash, they will sit in a landfill for years. Consider how many people throw out holiday lights year after year, and the ecological impact becomes painfully apparent.
If you take holiday lights to a facility that’s specially equipped to handle them, the plastic, copper, glass, and lead can be reclaimed and reused. Not only does this mean your old holiday lights aren’t taking up space in a landfill, it also means that their “ingredients” aren’t going to waste. Here’s what to do with holiday lights to reduce your impact on the environment.
1. Take holiday lights to a local waste management facility.
If fixing your holiday lights isn’t an option, call your local waste management facility and find out what their process is for recycling them. Some facilities can strip the lights down themselves, while others might not accept them at all. It’s also likely that the facility has a contract with a third party that will pick up the holiday lights, reduce them to their recyclable elements, and get them back into the manufacturing chain.
More than likely, the facility will have a particular day once or twice a month where they accept holiday lights and other similar waste; some cities also might accept lights during the same post-holiday period in which they take trees (just be sure to remove the lights from the tree). If unsure, check with your city’s solid waste or recycling department. Once you know the place and time, box the lights up and take them to the facility.
2. Inquire if your local home improvement center or hardware store accepts them.
Sometimes the best way to recycle some holiday lights is to take them right back to where you (probably) got them.
Check with local home improvement stores like Lowe’s, The Home Depot, Ace Hardware, True Value, or Menards to find out if they accept broken holiday lights. These stores often have a drop-off section specifically meant for holiday lights, but it might not be open year-round.
3. Ship holiday lights for recycling—and receive a discount for your efforts.
Buying new holiday lights every year isn’t cheap, and trashing them is basically like throwing good money down the drain. What if you could recycle your holiday lights while also getting a discount on the next set?
That’s just what some companies do, including Holiday LEDs and Christmas Light Source. If you mail in a set of dead holiday lights, both companies will give you a coupon off your next purchase. Both programs are open year-round, making this route one of the most convenient ways to recycle your dead holiday lights, even during spring cleaning.
4. Mail in or drop off Christmas lights to support charity.
Believe it or not, those old holiday lights still hold some value, and there are agencies out there that recycle them for a good cause. For example, Christmas Light Source accepts lights year round through the mail. Once the company receives your holiday lights, you’ll receive your discount—and, as we said, they’ll go to work recycling the materials in the lights. What’s more, Christmas Light Source spreads lots of goodwill by donating all the recycling proceeds to Toys for Tots.
If you prefer to donate locally, check with your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore locations. In 2021, some locations of the home-building charity were looking for unwanted holiday lights to recycle.
5. Donate or gift gently used but functional strings.
If your lights still work, but you have too many or want to change up your holiday decorating or energy use, give the lights to someone who can use them. Think about recently married couples or friends who just moved out on their own who might enjoy adding some holiday cheer without adding to their budget. Make them (and other gently used decorations) an early gift, along with some hot cocoa, of course.
Goodwill stores will take working lights and in some areas, they also might accept nonworking lights for recycling. Check with your local Goodwill or other charitable thrift store’s donation department.
6. Repurpose old lights.
Those large incandescent bulbs are colorful and kind of scream Christmas, so paint the old or dead bulbs to hide the metal base and add glitter, ribbon, or paint to the bulb using some spray adhesive. Connect them to a wreath, as Etsy seller gatorgrrl does here, or greenery or make a fun arrangement in a hurricane vase or a strand for a fireplace or doorway. If it’s hard to let go of vintage (but working) family lights despite their high energy use, keep one or two strands and use them in a small display, vase, or centerpiece instead of around a large tree, and donate the rest for recycling.