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Recycle broken holiday lights with Southeast Enterprises

When it’s the season to string up the holiday lights, invariably, there’s a broken strand or two. This year, don’t toss those lights. Recycle them and help keep thousands of pounds of wire, plastic and light bulbs out of the landfill.

Southeast Enterprises, a sheltered workshop for people with developmental disabilities, has been recycling lights since 2011. The program began when Megan Lee-Gurera, business development director, started to decorate her tree and discovered the lights had burned out. Not wanting to just throw them away, she started researching ways to recycle them. That’s what sparked the idea for the Holiday Light Recycling Drive. With little planning time that first year, she collected about 500 pounds of lights. But Lee-Gurera knew that if she could gather that many in so little time, she could go much bigger with better preparation the next year. With the help of many collection partners, Southeast Enterprises collected 31,000 pounds in 2012 and more than 40,000 pounds last year.

Nothing is wasted when Southeast Enterprises’ employees ready the lights for recycling. First, the lights are removed from the strands, either by clipping off each light or by unscrewing every bulb and sorting them in containers. The coated wire used to connect the lights is separated and put in another container. Finally, the plugs at the end of the strand are cut and put in a third container.

The small plastic lights are sent to Systech Environmental Corp., where they are burned in a kiln and used as an alternative source of energy. The wires and plugs are sold to City Scrap Metal in Lee’s Summit, MO, which pays for copper by the pound. The revenue is used to pay employees and fund future employment opportunities. Southeast Enterprises hires local people with developmental disabilities for this task and many others.

This year, Southeast Enterprises is setting an even higher goal of collecting 60,000 pounds of lights between Nov. 14 and Jan. 20, 2015. More than 165 collection sites will be located around the metro in schools, businesses, recycling centers, and community organizations. There is no fee to donate lights, and 100 percent of these lights will be recycled.

Greenability magazine is participating as a drop-off site for recycling holiday lights. We are located at Posty Cards, 1600 Olive St., Kansas City, MO. Recycle holiday lights with Greenability and receive a free copy of the magazine. The Greenability drop-off site is available Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

For more information and a list of drop-off sites, go to When your holiday lights go out this year, you can give the world a gift by recycling, instead of trashing.

Originally published in Greenability magazine, November/ December 2014, by David Bubash.

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