WILLMAR -- Every fall as families decorate porches and roofs with holiday lights, wads of tangled up strings of Christmas lights with burned out bulbs get thrown away. Instead of lighting up the neighborhood, miles of holiday lights end up buried in the landfill.
A new recycling program that kicks off Monday in Kandiyohi County, however, will help keep Christmas green and provide jobs to individuals with disabilities.
Area businesses and organizations are teaming up with West Central Industries, Ace Hardware stores and the Kandiyohi County Household Hazardous Waste and Recycling Program in the "Recycle Your Holidays" program. The effort was launched last year in the metro area and generated 100,000 pounds of holiday lights that were recycled instead of being thrown away, far exceeding the 50,000-pound goal.
The free recycling program is expanding to rural counties.
Throwing holiday lights away isn't necessarily an environmental hazard issue, said Nathan Reinbold, the waste technician with Kandiyohi County. "It's a resource issue."
Recycling Christmas lights means they're "not thrown in the landfill forever," he said.
The program also provides jobs for WCI clients who will remove the bulbs, which will be recycled for the glass. The workers will also untangle the electrical strings, cut them into 10-foot long sections, pack them into Gaylord bulk boxes and sell them to a company that removes and recycles the copper.
Recycling holiday lights is expected to provide jobs for 37 WCI clients in the day training and rehabilitation program in Willmar, said executive director Charlie Oakes. It will help make up for job losses WCI has experienced from a slowdown in the economy.
Recycling holiday lights will allow people to provide needed jobs for WCI clients and "do what's right for the environment," Oakes said.
While people are recycling their traditional holiday lights, Reinbold encouraged people to consider purchasing LED holiday lights, which use less energy and lost longer.
The program kicks off Monday, which is Recycle America Day, said Reinbold, who is on the state recycling association board.
Old holiday lights can be placed in special recycling containers at the county's recycling center, at WCI and at a number of area businesses and public locations. Chippewa County will also be collecting old holiday lights and sending them to WCI.
Businesses are also encouraged to collect old lights from their own employees. WCI will pick up the lights upon request.
The program will continue "until people stop bringing them in," Oakes said.
Diane Maurice, manager of marketing and customer service with Kandiyohi Power Cooperative, said she is pleased there's now an opportunity to recycle Christmas lights rather than fill the landfill with recyclable materials.
"It's even more exciting to know that by doing this, you are aiding in providing jobs in our community," she said.
Similar items, like cell phone wires, extension cords and lamp cords, can also be tossed into the bins and recycled.
The Recycling Association of Minnesota also has an interactive map on its website -- www.recycleminnesota.org -- to find out where holiday lights can be recycled.