Holiday lights can be recycled drop-off locations countywide
Most programs include an incentive for switching to energy-efficient LEDs
Scott Nash, the Bethesda resident who founded MOM's Organic Market in 1987, has not strung lights outside his home yet he wanted to savor every minute of Thanksgiving first but when he does, he will string up the LED lights he bought two years ago.
"LED lights are really great-looking with the bright colors," Nash said. "They look better and they're better for the environment."
MOM's, which prides itself for a collection of off-the-beaten path recycling efforts each year, started collecting used, broken, shredded and otherwise neglected holiday lights this year at each of its six stores in Maryland and Virginia.
The company will accept drop-offs from customers through Jan. 31, 2011, offering a 25 percent coupon for new LED lights at the customer service counter as a trade-in.
"I'm sure it's something we'll continue to do for years," Nash said. "We're all for getting rid of energy-hogging lights and looking at new opportunities."
Collections only started this week, but the Rockville store already had one box full for shipping Monday afternoon.
The lights will go to HolidayLEDs.com, an online retailer, which started a mail-in recycling program in 2007, months after it began operating.
"Our customers felt bad just throwing their old lights away," said Phillip Curtis, owner of the Jackson, Mich.-based company. "It may be great to switch to LED lights to save energy, but on the other hand, they were just sending something else to the landfill."
HolidayLEDs quickly partnered with OmniSource, a metal recycler, to create a new market for chopped-up Christmas lights. Customers mail their used strings to HolidayLEDs and the company takes them to OmniSource which runs the light bundles through a large commercial shredder. The resulting bits are separated into their usable parts: copper wire, PVC wire coating and plastic or glass bulb parts.
Because holiday light recycling is a relatively new phenomenon, hard numbers for participation are not available.
"We were the first ones to do it, as far as I know," Curtis said.
Since 2007, the company has recycled 30,000 pounds, with increased interest each year, he said.
The Recycling Association of Minnesota is trying to collect 200,000 pounds of used Christmas lights to recycle this winter.
National retailers such as Lowe's, Home Depot and CVS have started light-recycling programs, adding to the trend. The Lowe's store in Gaithersburg will accept lights through Christmas Eve.
Local light-recycling opportunities are being pushed by the Montgomery County Division of Solid Waste Services. "We have a goal to recycle 50 percent of all waste generated in Montgomery County, so we are always looking for ways to educate people on recycling," said Alan Pultyniewicz, the county's recycling manager.
Chaz Miller, president of the Maryland Recycling Network and director of state programs for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, said similar programs are starting to spring up around the state. Infinity Recycling in Chestertown will accept used holiday lights as part of their curbside recycling program this season. In Howard County, residents are being directed to MOM's and online retailers.
Miller said light recycling represents a shift in the industry toward more complex recycling processes.
"This is an attempt to recycle materials that have not been traditionally recycled. It represents a move toward niche recycling programs," he said.
"This is probably part of a larger movement of people trying to find more creative ways to recycle and always think in terms of whether something is recyclable," he said.
Nash said he didn't know how many lights might be collected at MOM's stores this season, but suspected Rockville and College Park would be heavily used sites based on the company's other programs. He hopes everyone will give their waste a second look during this season of giving.
"People still throw away too much stuff," he said. "They have all sorts of stuff in there that can be reused or repurposed. I've taken stuff out of people's trash, put it in my car and dropped it off at Goodwill."
Ways to recycle this holiday season
Real trees: The County will collect Christmas trees on regular recycling days from Dec. 27 through Feb. 4, 2011. Trees must be free of decorations and placed on the curb before 7 a.m. Trees in plastic bags will not be accepted. The trees will be composted or chipped for mulch.
Artificial trees: Look for a home through a local charitable organization or The Freecycle Network. If that doesn't work, artificial trees are accepted as bulk trash.
Wreaths and garland: If the greens can be separated from the wires, these can be bagged and bundled as yard waste. If not, they should go in the trash.
Wrapping paper: Foil paper or plastic-coated wrapping paper cannot be recycled by Montgomery County. Paper-only gift wrap can go in with the rest of the recycling.
Packing peanuts: Not eligible for the county recycling program. However, these local businesses will accept them for reuse: I Sold It On Ebay in Gaithersburg, and Pak Mail, Parcel Plus and PostNet in Rockville. For a complete listing, go to www.loosefillpackaging.com.
Batteries: Dry cell and alkaline batteries used in flashlights, toys, and appliances are no longer considered to be hazardous waste and can be tossed in the trash. Rechargeable batteries contain metals which are valuable, or which must be disposed of properly. Residents can drop them off at Shady Grove Solid Waste Transfer Station, 16101 Frederick Road, Derwood.
Turkey grease: Used oil from any holiday preparation can be swapped at the Vegetable Oil Exchange on the county's website, www.montgomerycountymd.gov.
Source: Montgomery County Division of Solid Waste Services