The phrase "one man's trash is another man's treasure" gets a holiday twist in Shijiao, China. According to a report by The Atlantic, every year around 20 million pounds of discarded holiday lights find their way to the southern Chinese town, and leave as a range of different products, including slipper soles.
First, the lights are chopped up into tiny fragments and mixed with water. They're then shoveled onto a vibrating table. The Atlantic's Adam Minter details the rest of the recycling process the discarded Christmas lights go through:
"As the table shakes, the heavier flecks of copper (from the wire) and brass (from the light bulb sockets) flow in one direction, and the lighter plastic and glass (from the insulation and bulbs) flows in another. It's the same concept that miners use when panning for gold, and the results of this updated, age-old technology can be found at the far end of the water tables: baskets of roughly 95% pure copper and brass alongside baskets of insulation and glass. The contaminated water, meanwhile, flows into a recovery system, where it's re-circulated, over and over, through the recycling system."
According to a report by Las Cruces Sun-News, during the holiday season Americans accumulate around 5 million tons of solid waste, 25 percent more than usual per household.
Patrick Peck, director of the South Central Solid Waste Authority (SCSWA), told the paper that Christmas lights are important to recycle.
"Rather than throwing them in the trash, these lights can be stripped to recycle their valuable metals," Peck said, according to the publication. "By recycling we're saving resources and keeping them out of the landfill."
Since the United States doesn't have an industry for the recycled material, The Atlantic notes, the discarded lights are sold for around 60 cents per pound and shipped to China. According to Minter, the arrangement is "to the benefit of the environment, and pocketbooks, in both countries." Also, perhaps, to the holiday spirit.
Want to see the best Christmas light displays before they head to the recycling bin? Click over here to see local holiday light shows from across the U.S.