Holiday lights

The fifth annual Recycle Holiday Lights Drive, by the Eastridge Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization, offers an excellent way to recycle old lights, keep them out of the landfill, and raise money for local youth.

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Many homeowners have taken advantage of recent warm fall days to put up holiday lights; even more lights will appear right after Thanksgiving meaning many homeowners will be out decorating this weekend.

One frustration I struggle with each year is light strings that don’t work. I know this year will be no different but I really hate throwing light strings in the trash. I’m haunted, like the ghost of Christmas future, by the thought of how many years the plastic and wire will molder at the landfill, never breaking down.

It probably seems odd for me to spend time in a gardening column talking about my problems with holiday lights. But making the best use of our natural resources and protecting the environment are core values of the University of Nebraska and Nebraska Extension, where we strive to grow a healthy future for Nebraskans and the world through our stewardship of food, fuel, water, landscapes and people.

Recycling — whether it's landscape or household waste — is basic to good stewardship.

The fifth annual Recycle Holiday Lights Drive, by the Eastridge Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization, offers an excellent way to recycle old lights, keep them out of the landfill and raise money for local youth. You can drop off both nonworking lights and/or lights that still work but you just don’t want anymore. You don’t even have to remove the bulbs, they can be left in place. But do remove any packing material, like plastic bags, cardboard, etc.

Light strings are collected at drop-off sites throughout Lincoln and end their journey at Scrap Central, Inc., in Omaha, where the different component materials are separated and reused in new items.

Eastridge Elementary earns 25 cents per pound of holiday lights collected. Since starting the holiday lights recycling project, more than 25,000 pounds of lights have been diverted from the landfill and over $10,500 raised for school projects like a playground renovation, addition of a walking track and the Eagles’ Nest outdoor natural space.

On behalf of the Eastridge PTO, 10 percent of funds raised from the holiday lights drive is donated to Lincoln Fire Fighters Operation Warm, give.operationwarm.org, which provides new American-made winter coats to children in need.

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All Lincoln Fire and Rescue Stations, Super Savers and Russ’s Markets are collection sites this year, as well as many other locations across the city. For a complete list of drop-off sites, visit the Eastridge website at eastridge.lps.org.

The holiday light drive is going on right now. Donation boxes were available beginning Nov. 15 at sites throughout Lincoln and collections will continue through Jan. 8.

After Jan. 8, you have until Jan. 14 to drop off lights directly at Eastridge Elementary before the recycle holiday lights drive ends for this year. So why not take advantage of this great opportunity to get rid of your old lights, while benefiting local youth?

If your community doesn’t have a local holiday light recycling event, it would be a great opportunity for school, church or community organizations to raise some money. Contact Scrap Central, Inc. at scrapcentralrecycling.com or 402-393-6620 for more information about setting up a recycling event in your community next year.

Until then, why not make time for a quick trip to Lincoln. Shop, have dinner, see a movie and drop off your old light strings for recycling! Start off the new year with the good feeling of having prevented your recyclables from going to the landfill.

Sarah Browning is an extension educator with Nebraska Extension and can be reached at 402-441-7180 or sbrowning2@unl.edu.

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