This is a question that comes up pretty much every holiday season, especially in January, when you start planning to get rid of decorations.
But how often have you arrived at the big day when it comes to decorating the tree and last year’s old lights don’t work anymore?
And if you’ve ever spent more than 5 minutes trying to find a loose bulb or wire, you know that it’s a lot less frustrating to buy a new Christmas light set.
But before you dump the old lights in the recycling bin, let me tell you what the right approach is and why.
The simple answer is yes. Not only can you recycle old lights, but you absolutely should.
Christmas lights contain copper wiring, glass, plastic, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).  Even the newer LED type Christmas light sets are entirely recyclable.
But should you simply throw them in the bin? How can you recycle them properly?
Let’s find out.
Here are the 4 best options to consider.
You can either bring your used holiday lights or mail them in to a reputable recycling center like GreenCitizen that offers a year-round Christmas recycling service.
You can also contact an online recycling program. Christmas Light Source, for example, takes your lights for recycling and use the proceeds to buy items that can be donated to Toys for Tots.
More on this shortly.
If the lights aren’t broken, then you can give them away instead at your local thrift store or other charity services.
It’s much better than ending up in the trash, and they can end up lighting up someone else’s Christmas. Just check that all the bulbs are working and if you have any spare bulbs, then make sure you send those in as well.
Many hardware stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace, and True Value have a drop-off point for Christmas lights. It’s often one of the easiest options, especially if you have one of them close by.
These companies have contracts with other third-party companies to make sure they don't end up in a landfill but instead process all the materials.
You can always search online for your closest solid waste office and contact them to see if they have a drop off program for Christmas lights. If they do, you can take the lights and possibly other recyclable materials to properly dispose of them.
If you’re in the SF Bay Area, your best option is to take advantage of GreenCitizen’s local recycling program. The program allows you to choose either a drop-off, pick-up, or mail-in service to make it as simple as possible.
We partner with Zarc Recycling, an R2 certified vendor who effectively grinds up the lights’ strings to separate the plastic from the copper for reuse. We also partner with e-Recycling of California, an e-Steward certified vendor.
If you live outside the Bay Area, you may want to send in your Christmas lights and LEDs by mail.
And finally, our Green Directory has an extensive list of certified recycling centers around the country that make it as easy as possible to dispose of the lights ethically.
This should give you more than enough options to get prepared for the holiday season.
You’d be surprised by how many holiday lights end up in the trash. But when you consider how many millions of people decorate their trees each year, it becomes clearer why this can end up being a problem.
I can’t remember how many times I’ve started decorating a tree, only to find out that I needed a new set of lights.
Now, the LED lights you can find these days end up working for a longer time, but we somehow always end up with one set that isn’t working.
When you consider that millions of LEDs could be broken, it’s clear that bringing them to a recycling company can solve a huge waste problem.
Not only does less recyclable stuff end up in a landfill, but it also saves producing tons of resources like metal, plastic, and sometimes glass.
This alone saves a huge amount of unnecessary environmental damage. 
And to be even more sustainable, we would suggest using solar Christmas lights instead of the traditional ones. You can check out some of our reviews of some solar Christmas lights here.
Solar powered lights may be another environmentally friendly alternative [to traditional Christmas lights].
David Hardisty, Professor and Sustainability Researcher at the University of British Columbia
Now, there is an alternative to Christmas lights recycling.
Most of the newer Christmas lights you buy don’t become useless just because one bulb is gone. It might mean that not all of them will light up, but they may still be perfectly suitable for some home improvement projects with the kids.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
One way my kids made use of them at home is to wrap them around a wardrobe for a very fun effect. For some kids, this can even be a solution for going to sleep in the dark.
One set of lights we had used clear LEDs, and they were made suitable for outdoor use. We simply wrapped them around our patio area and turned them on for evening family time in the summer.
With a bit of imagination and the help from your kids, you’ll find endless ways to make use of old lights as home improvement projects.
Yes, Lowes recycles old Christmas lights. Each store has a recycling station, which is usually at the entrance where you can drop off broken lights. And it doesn’t have to be during the holiday season as they will accept them at any time.
Recycling centers and most DIY stores take old Christmas lights. This is the easiest way if you want to make sure they are correctly dealt with. There are also some mail-in ways, which may be ideal if you don’t have a local drop-off point.
No, old Christmas lights generally aren’t worth anything, especially if they don’t work anymore. Some DIY stores offer store credit to encourage recycling, so you may want to keep an eye out for such offers.
Yes, Goodwill accepts Christmas decorations and lights year-round. Just keep in mind that you should ideally bring them to a local Goodwill store in working order, as they are probably not worth investing time and effort into fixing.
Recycled Christmas lights are broken down into their individual components to become the raw material for new products. Grinding up the strings separates the copper and PVC, and other metals are also removed. These are all valuable commodities for electronics manufacturing.
It might seem like a small problem, but Christmas light recycling can reduce a considerable amount of unnecessary landfill trash.
You can put your Christmas lights to good use or you can ask us to pick up your old lights from your home or office (if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area), or you can bring them to our EcoCenter in Burlingame.
If you're outside SF, you can also mail your lights in to us.
Here at GreenCitizen, you will find many options to best dispose of your lights in an environmentally friendly and supportive way.
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