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Groups push Christmas lights recycling effort

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AP A NE USA Holiday Lights
In this file photo, Marc Hansen looks at the Christmas decorations that adorn his home in LaVista, Neb., Thursday, Dec. 7, 2006.
Nati Harnik/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Recycling Association of Minnesota collected 600 pounds of Christmas lights in a small town west of the Twin Cities last spring, just by handing out flyers to homeowners holding garage sales.

The group hopes to collect more than 50,000 pounds this year as it launches the first major statewide effort to recycle Christmas lights. Businesses will collect old or malfunctioning lights, which will then be disassembled and sent to recyclers.

The effort, announced last week, will include recycling the copper in the wiring, which is expected to generate enough money to pay for the program, said Ellen Telander, director of the Recycling Association of Minnesota. 

Besides keeping the lights out of landfills,  Telander said people getting rid of their lights might opt for new LED strings that are much more energy efficient.

"Now's the time to do it, because people are going to be throwing away Christmas lights and converting to LEDs," she said.

In the Twin Cities, lights recycling bins will be placed at all Snyders Drug Stores and at WCCO-TV Plaza in Minneapolis. 

In greater Minnesota, collection sites are being set up in many cities, including Duluth, Mankato, St. Cloud, Pine City, Pelican Rapids, Staples, Park Rapids, Crookston and Ely.

Organizers will collect the lights and send them to vocational centers in Minnesota where workers, some of whom have disabilities, will be paid to remove the light bulbs. The bulbs and wires will then be sent to separate recycling locations.

The recycling association is getting help from Clean Energy Resource Teams to get as many collection locations set up as possible. 

Organizer Joel Haskard said his volunteers started setting up collection sites two weeks ago. Haskard is hopeful the program will be able to collect 50,000 pounds of lights by mid-January.

Because one of the group's main goals is to promote energy savings and efficiency, Haskard said he's especially excited about the copper recycling. By one estimate, recycling copper takes about 10 percent of the energy it takes to extract it.

"It's very energy intensive to create new copper," Haskard said. "It's a big deal."

  According to estimates by Haskard's organization, recycling 50,000 pounds of lights in Minnesota would save about 530,000 kilowatt hours, or about 960,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. That's assuming 20,000 pounds of lights are replaced by LEDs and that homeowners with lights use them for about six hours a day from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.

Christmas-light recycling has become more common, but consumers are still limited in where they can drop off their old lights, Telander said. In most places, the only option is to mail them to a recycling program, she said.

"No one knows you can recycle these," she said. "Ultimately the goal is to have this happen nationwide."