Old holiday lights being recycled at 100+ Twin Cities sites

LEDs light up the front yard of a home on South Blaisdell Avenue in Minneapolis’ Lyndale neighborhood.

The Recycling Association of Minnesota collected just 600 pounds of holiday lights in its first recycling drive three years ago. Last year the total was 200,000, and organizers hope to collect even more this year.

More than 100 hardware stores, churches and city halls are collecting old lights in the Twin Cities.

Ellen Telander, the group’s executive director, says about 450 sites statewide are collecting the lights, which will be sent to several vocational centers around the state that hire people with disabilities. The drop-off sites are all listed on a map on the group’s website.

Telander said the effort is different from most other Christmas light recycling efforts around the country because workers separate each light bulb from the light strings and recycle both the cords and bulbs.

“It’s kind of a long process,” she said. “No one else is as crazy as us.”

The bulbs are taken to a recycler in Blaine that processes light bulbs, and the cords are taken to a separate recycler. The recyclers pay for the materials, and that money goes to pay the approximately 400 workers who dismantle the light strings, Telander said.

The effort has been noticed outside of Minnesota: For the first time, sites in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Phoenix, Ariz., are all sending Christmas lights to Minnesota to be recycled this year.

“About 400 people visit our website every day, and I think people have also just heard about the program through word of mouth,” Telander said.

Telander says it’s an ideal time to offer holiday lights recycling because many people are converting to energy efficient LEDs.