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Minn. recycler wants your old holiday lights

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LED Christmas lights
LEDs light up the front yard of a home on South Blaisdell Avenue in Minneapolis' Lyndale neighborhood.
Elizabeth Dunbar / MPR News file

Minnesotans are buying thousands of strands of new, energy-efficient LEDs to decorate their homes each year. But what happens to all the old incandescent lights?

The Recycling Association of Minnesota knows plenty are sitting in people's garages and storage rooms. And it wants to prevent those lights from eventually getting tossed.

"We want to make sure that we're not throwing copper, we're not throwing glass, we're not throwing recyclable items in landfills," said Brita Sailer, co-director of the association.  "We're at a time when we should really be focusing on retaining those resources as our resources become more and more dear."

Sailer said recycling the lights is cost effective when done on a big enough scale.  The program has collected more than 650,000 light strands for recycling in the past four years. 

The materials recycled raise enough to pay about 200 people to separate the bulbs from the electrical cords at several vocational centers around the state. 

Once the materials are separated, they are taken to two different Twin Cities recyclers -- one processes the glass and plastic, and the other strips out the copper wiring.

The program is working with hardware stores to make holiday lights recycling effortless during a busy time of year, Sailer said.

"We're trying to take some of the hassle off this and make it easier for people to be able to drop off those strings at a convenient location for them."

The 500 or so locations are listed at recycleminnesota.org.