One person’s broken strand of Christmas lights is another’s treasure – and the Yong Chang Processing company in Shijiao, China is where cast-off holiday decorations go to be transformed into new products. As the holidays come to a close, thousands of Americans will toss strands of lights into recycling bins, which will make their way to the Chinese plant.  Yong Chang then chops up the lights, sorts out their plastic components, and recycles them into useful products such as insulation and even slipper bottoms.

green design, eco design, sustainable design, Yong Chang Processing, Shijiao, China, Christmas Tree light recycling, plastic recycling, scrap metal recyclingPhoto by Tiffa Day

The area of Shijiao is known for its Christmas light recycling plants, which process around 20 million pounds of e-waste each year in nine different plants. Inside the Yong Chang plant, 2.2 million pounds of lights are recycled each year.  The process is relatively simple – beginning with the age old challenge of untangling the lights themselves. The lights are then shredded and mixed with water to help separate the copper and brass from the outer casings of plastic and glass. A conveyer belt shakes the elements apart and separates the mixture into appropriate containers. The mucked-up water is not released into Shijiao’s environment, but is instead pumped through a recycling system and then used again and again.

The chopped-up brass and copper is then sold and melted down at a nearby refinery. The plastic glop is sold to companies that buy large volumes of plastic and rubber insulation to be turned into rubber shoe soles and other products.

Christmas lights could be chopped up in the United States, but we lack the processing plants required to complete the recycling process. Scrap metal processors find the wire bits to be too miniscule to bother with, and there is an overall lack of companies seeking chopped plastic pulp.

So make sure to recycle your broken and damaged lights after Christmas – they could end up at the Young Chang plant and come back next year as a pair of new slippers under the tree.

Via The Atlantic

Images © Joseph Nadler, Tiffa Day, Son of Groucho and ©Katerha