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Local transfer stations some of the few in the state to recycle Christmas lights

Last modified: 12/25/2015 10:39:38 PM
When their Christmas lights eventually bust, residents in four New Hampshire towns have the option to recycle, rather than chuck in the trash.

Henniker, Dunbarton, Bradford and Milton transfer stations all make sure the twinkling lights get on a path to being reused after they go out.

The reason there are so few stations in the state accepting the holiday lights often has to do with staffing and storage shortages, said Bonnie Bethune, member services manager for the Northeast Resource Recovery Association, a recycling nonprofit based in Epsom.

“Not many towns go to the degree that these towns do where they separate out the wire and copper,” Bethune said. “Most of that is staffing.”

Bethune said she’d like to see more of it.

Recycling wire in Dunbarton doesn’t take a lot of work on the part of the transfer station, said manager Patrick “Woody” Bowne.

“We’ll take anything Christmas light-wise,” he said.

Bowne’s crews put the lights in 55 gallon drums and haul them over to Schnitzer Steel, a national metal processor with locations in Concord.

“It’s all throughout the year we get them,” Bowne said.

This year, the Dunbarton crew has processed about 182 pounds of Christmas lights, which is less than years past.

“This year we didn’t see a big influx of them coming in,” he said. “It’s not as much as it used to be. We used to do quite a bit of it.”

Bowne said he doesn’t know why the volume of discarded lights has gone down, but it could have something to do with more of the long-lasting LED bulbs hitting the market.

When they can get Christmas lights, selling them to the metal processors ends up being a lucrative deal.

Scrap metal goes for about 3 cents per pound. Since Christmas lights have copper wire in them, the going rate is closer to 13 cents per pound.

“If they separate it out, it’s a much higher price,” Bethune said. “You could make 10 cents more (per pound). They actually make some pretty good money.”

Plus, there’s the environmental benefit of re-using the metal wire and making sure it doesn’t end up in the landfill, according to Ed Harding, yard manager at Northwood processor Harding Metals.

“It’s being used again,” Harding said. “Not only is it not going in a landfill, they’re going to get a positive return and a peace of mind.”

Christmas lights aside, the holiday season is always a busy time of year at the Dunbarton Transfer Station, according to Bowne.

Sometimes the crew winds up with an entire fake Christmas tree, lights, ornaments and all, they have to deal with. They’ll also get the occasional fake Rudolph, but “nothing really crazy,” Bowne said.

From the day after Christmas to the first day of the new year, Bowne expects transfer station employees to be working around the clock to get everyone’s old wrapping paper and boxes sorted.

“My staff, they push as hard as they can,” Bowne said.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)


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