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Recycling Christmas Tree Lights: Yes, You Can!

Tracy L. Barnett
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Christmas light recycling at Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo promotes Christmas light recycling as a way to save landfill space, meaning more space for wildlife. Pictured is their recycling bin, located just inside the main entrance; guests don’t have to purchase a Zoo ticket to drop off string lights. The Zoo will accept Christmas lights through Jan. 13. (Photo courtesy of Houston Zoo)

We like to think of Christmas lights as those cheerful strands of colorful sparkle that light up our holidays – and that’s an accurate perception. But the story doesn’t end there. 
 
Adam Minter opens his book, Junkyard Planet, with another stage in the life of your Christmas lights – this time, in Shijao, China. He’s checking out bale-sized blocks of them – each weighing 2,200 pounds – and he learns that this one recycling business, one of many, receives an estimated 2.2 million pounds of Christmas lights each year. 

China has a lot of industries that need the copper – and it turns out that mining it from Christmas lights is cheaper and easier on the environment than mining it from the ground. Plus, it’s a massive business. And it’s not just in China. C & D Scrap Metal, 6775 Bingle Rd., is another one. The company has its own in-house processing facility similar to that described by Minter – and they will actually pay you for your old Christmas lights. You won’t get rich from the 10 to 15 cents a pound that they are offering – but you might walk away with some handy pocket change. The South Post Oak Recycling Center, 14600 S Post Oak Rd., will pay you 10 cents a pound for your lights. Both facilities accept your lights year-round.

Closer to home, you can drop them off at the West University Public Works Administrative Office Building, located at 3826 Amherst, Monday – Friday between 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Or you can take them to the Houston Zoo and leave them in the drop-off bin just inside the main entrance. The Zoo has been promoting Christmas light recycling for several years now as a way to save landfill space, thus lessening the need for more massive landfills – meaning more space for wildlife. “Less space for landfills means more space for animals, animals like bobcats, deer, and the Texas State Small Mammal, the armadillo,” the Houston Zoo reported in a recent blog entry

To date, the Houston Zoo has recycled more than 12,826 pounds of holiday lights to date: enough for about six bales of Christmas tree lights in a facility in Shijao, China. Or, even better, nearly the same weight as a male Asian elephant! 

Of course, if the lights are still working, you can donate them to a charity such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army – or the Texas Art Asylum, 1719 Live Oak, a wonderful nonprofit offering supplies to teachers, artists and crafters for creative reuse. That way, someone else can enjoy them before making sure they end up in a place where they can be transformed into something else besides trash. 

The Zoo will be accepting Christmas lights until Jan. 13; the West U Public Works collection point, until Jan. 10. After that, you can take them to the City’s bi-annual e-waste collection event that occurs the first Saturday in May and November, or to C & D or South Post Oak Recycling all year.

As far as Christmas trees, in the City of Bellaire, curbside tree recycling is scheduled for Jan. 2-3. Or you can drop off your trees at the collection area located at the Northeast corner of Baldwin Ave. and Edith St. through Jan. 15. See more details here.

Read more from Tracy L. Barnett on going green: Creating more joy and less waste over the holidays, planet-friendly holiday gift ideascomposting and plogging.

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