Dear Eartha:I want to get new LED Christmas lights. Do I just have to throw away my old lights?
Don't throw them away! Good news is your old Christmas lights can be recycled locally. Lowe's has a well-labeled drop-barrel right by the entrance where you can drop your old lights. The report from Lowe's is that they have had to empty this big barrel twice in the last week alone because so many Summit County citizens are recycling their old lights. Yay us!
If you are thinking, why bother, don't these lights just get thrown away? Think again. Your old strands of lights are actually recycled. A recycler chops them up and separates them into their reusable components, including plastic, glass, copper and brass. It's true that sometimes this activity does take place in China. Lowe's was unable to confirm where their recycling operations occur. In some cases, the separated plastic mush will become pieces of footwear! The crafty among us might argue for up-cycling those lights into something crafty and cute like a wreath display. But I'm not one of them. We can't all be crafters.
In case you were wondering, this is not one of those Eartha's where we advocate for not buying new things or just saying no to twinkly pretty sparkly stuff made of disposable parts. Those are great earth-friendly arguments (Scrooge). But just this once we'd like to say go ahead and get your whimsical twinkle on, in fact an evolutionary biologist at Binghamton University in New York recently released a study that correlates neighborhoods that have great Christmas lights with high social capital.
"It turns out," says Dr. Wilson, "that this urge to decorate your house is an expression of neighborliness. Some of the best neighborhoods literally glow more brightly."
But do it efficiently. Here's a quick analysis of what an LED bulb can offer.
1) They use less energy, up to 90 percent less. According to the Department of Energy, running incandescent for 40 days would cost $9.50, compared to a mere $0.39 for LEDs. If you use them for 10 seasons, you get $117.86 vs. $21.69
2) They have been shown to last longer, with fewer burnouts over a 4,000 hour trail period.
3) They run cooler, so you don't burn your house down (this does manage to happen to people). I would also argue they run brighter, but that's just my experience with my new LEDs.
4) They are cost prohibitive. Just kidding. The price of LED bulbs has come down so much that they are now about even with incandescent bulbs at about seven bulbs per dollar.
5) You can get them anywhere now. Including small specialty shops and Walmart.
And while you are getting rid of those old Christmas lights, you can take household batteries to Lowe's as well, camera, cell phone batteries too. You can also drop off any old compact fluorescent bulbs to be recycled, so that the small amount of mercury does not make it to our landfill.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.