How to recycle: Christmas lights (with in-person and mail-in options)
Picture it: you’re pulling out the Christmas lights and other decorations to set up for the season. The tree is up, ready to be lit. You plug in the lights and……nothing.
This anti-climatic moment is brought to you by broken Christmas lights. And it can be a huge bummer.
Your first instinct may be to throw the broken ones in a trash and start hashing a plan to get a new set, but it doesn’t have to be that way! There are options to make this moment a little more environmentally friendly.
For this post, I’ve done research (to help save you time and mental energy) to find as many resources as possible for where you can recycle Christmas lights.
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What should I do with old Christmas lights?
When a string of Christmas lights breaks, it can be tempting to simply toss it in the trash. It’s only a tiny item and won’t take up that much space even though our landfill space is limited, right?
Yes, but imagine 10,000 people having the same mindset. In fact, “it is estimated that 150 million light sets are sold in America each year” (source). And while not all of these end up in the trash at the end of the holiday season, it hopefully provides an idea of the amount of waste that will eventually end up in the trash each year.
One good reason to recycle Christmas lights (besides the landfill issue) are made out of plastic, glass, copper, and other metals – much of which can actually be recycled and reused (unlike plastic which has a minimal life).
Additionally, some of those materials can contain things like mercury or lead, both of which can be harmful to the environment if there is a leak in a landfill, or the lights somehow end up elsewhere (trash spills, etc).
How to repair Christmas lights
I don’t claim to be a repair expert – in fact, I do what I imagine you probably do as well, which is to do an Ecosia/Google search or look up videos on YouTube.
But, before you even consider recycling Christmas lights (or much of anything that’s broken), it’s good practice to see if they can be repaired.
This resource from The Home Depot has a lot of great information, along with a video to help guide you through troubleshooting the issue.
Related post: How to Recycle and Get Rid of Clothes (Responsibly)
General search resources: How to recycle Christmas lights
The following resources are what I call general, ‘all purpose’ options, because you can search for a wide-range of items you’re looking to recycle. That being said, they don’t always have a comprehensive list of search results that you may get using other search methods. Nevertheless, they’re worthwhile and can be a super handy tool if you’re striking out in other areas.
My go-to search engine is Ecosia, because each search you make goes towards planting a tree! One easy way to find out how to recycle Christmas lights in your area is to search for just that. You’ll likely get a few resources that you can look into from there such as local libraries (yes, seriously!), or municipal recycling locations.
Earth911 Recycling locator
The Earth911 Recycling locator resource is one that is my go-to when all my other search efforts have failed.
All you have to do is type in either your zip code to find places that offer recycling services in your area, or, you can search by specific items.
The reason it’s my last resort is that I usually can find what I’m looking for quicker by using one of the other resources listed. However, it’s always worth mentioning.
The Green Directory is a similar resource to the Earth911 Recycling locator, and one that you may want to have on hand “just in case”. It’s similar to the Earth911 Recycling locator in that you can search by zip code or by specific item.
Mail-in programs for Christmas light recycling
These resources offer Christmas light recycling via a mail-in option, and are currently accepting packages as of the time of posting. Be sure to check with the specific program you’re interested in before sending anything.
HolidayLED has a mail-in option or an in-person drop off option (if you live in Sussex, Wisconsin) that is available year-round.
For any lights you send in, you’ll get a coupon to buy new ones at a discount via their website.
Christmas Light Source
The Christmas Light Source program accepts mailed-in Christmas lights year round. For every box you send in, you’ll get a coupon for 10% off for new Christmas lights (although the website does not say from where).
Christmas Light Source then takes the proceeds from recycling the lights and purchases toys and books which get donated to Toys for Tots.
Along with being a resource to search for recycling locations locally, Green Citizen also offers a mail-in option.
At the time of this posting, there is a small fee for mailing in Christmas Lights through Green Citizen. Be sure to check the website for more information.
In person drop off resources for recycling Christmas lights
These places offer an in-person Christmas light recycling drop-off only. Be sure to check with the location before bringing Christmas lights to make sure they’re still accepting items.
MOMS Organic Market
East Coast folks, this one is for you. MOMS Organic Market will accept broken Christmas lights at many of their store locations. Check-in with the one nearest you to verify if they’re currently accepting items.
For a while, many hardware stores offered Christmas light recycling, however that has changed within the last couple of years. One place that still may offer light recycling is TrueValue.
Most TrueValues are franchised, so unlike corporate-owned hardware stores, each individual TrueValue may offer recycling services that others don’t.
Here is a list of all the TrueValue locations across the US. Be sure to contact the store ahead of time to check and see if they offer a recycling program before bringing items in.
Other – Home Depot, Lowes, Ace Hardware, Environmental LED
As mentioned above, once upon a time, many big box stores offered Christmas light recycling programs. However, due to COVID or the cost of recycling becoming too expensive to be sustainable, many stopped.
If you’re doing research into places that offer Christmas light recycling programs, you may run across lists that include Home Depot, Lowes, Ace Hardware, and Environmental LED.
To save you time and mental energy, I spent a long time researching these four different companies, even going so far as to contact customer service to verify if they offer recycling programs. And at this time, they don’t.
Related post: The Eco-Friendly Magic of Tidying Up (a guide to responsibly getting rid of almost anything)
Lights still good? Don’t recycle – pass along
Buy Nothing Group
Of course, no recycling post would be complete without the mention of your local Buy Nothing Group. If your lights still work, please don’t send them to a recycling program! Offer them up to your Buy Nothing Group, friends, or family first.
If you can’t give your working Christmas lights away to someone who wants them, your next option would be to donate them.
Another donation option is your local Habitat ReStore location. They accept donations (specific items vary by location), and then take the proceeds of all sales to put towards building affordable housing in your local area.
If you don’t want to donate, you can always repurpose! A quick Ecosia or Pinterest search will bring up a variety of fun ideas for ways you can reuse your Christmas lights.
It’s always a bummer when you discover your Christmas lights aren’t working, but luckily, there are a number of recycling options. Have you used any of these programs?