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Come, Oh Ye Recyclers: Barnstable County Launches Christmas Light Recycling Program

If you’re breaking out your Christmas lights early this year, you may find that some have lost their twinkle. That’s why Barnstable County is launching its annual holiday light recycling program in all 15 Cape towns. 

The program makes it free for residents to drop off old, broken, or unwanted string lights at any transfer station until January 15th— even for those who don’t have a transfer station sticker.

“This is kind of an all access,” said Kari Parcell, a recycling and solid waste expert with the Department of Environmental Protection and Barnstable County's Cape Cod Cooperative Extension. “So even folks without that transfer station sticker can go in there and simply say, ‘I have Christmas lights, only Christmas lights. I'm not a sticker holder, but I'd like to participate in the program.’”

The county will then be able to separate and recycle the metal, glass, and plastic pieces of the decorations.

“I can take them to a third party vendor in Hyannis, where they strip off the plastic in the lights themselves and they take those metals and they melt them down,” she said.

Cords dumped in the regular recycling bin can tangle in the rotating machinery at recycling plants, which could break the equipment and endanger workers. 

“You don't want to put tanglers in your recycling bin,” Parcell said.  “Even though they're recyclable, it doesn't go in the bin because they're going to tangle up all the sorting equipment that would sort them out if it was a basic recyclable like a glass, a tin, a jug, a tub, those sorts of things.”

Once separated out and melted down, the metal in the lights can be re-used to make laptops, televisions, and, of course, new Christmas lights.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.