By Dennis Douda, WCCO-TV

Minnesota is home to a one-of-a-kind recycling program, where you can get rid of your old holiday lights and give jobs to people with mental disabilities.

Jeannie Cotone is one of 97 people who work at the Adult Training Habilitation Centers in Hutchinson and Winsted.

“There’s a string of lights and they need to be recycled, so we take the lights off, take the plastic and put it in one and the lights in another so they can recycle them,” she said, explaining her job.

The Centers collect enough holiday lights each year to keep Cotone and her fellow co-workers employed all year long.

“So last year’s goal was to collect 50,000 pounds,” explained Jason Telander. “In fact, we exceeded the goal by 25,000 pounds. We collected 75,000 pounds of lights.”

This year, they’re hoping to recycle 200,000 pounds of lights. By doing so, they could give jobs to 400 people with disabilities.

“It’s such a relaxing job and you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile,” Cotone said.

Recycling the lights is also good for the environment. The lights are barely biodegradable and the plastic and wires can take thousands of years to decompose.

Once the lights are recycled, the copper is re-melted and the plastic parts become new insulators for electrical wiring.

“It’s challenging and some are hard to pull,” explained Darla Burandt. “But there’s always one that’s sneaky but I always get it.”

You can drop off your old lights at WCCO-TV or at dozens of ACE Hardware locations in the Twin Cities. The program runs through the end of January.


Comments (4)
  1. J says:

    I would like to know what steps are being taken to prevent the clients from exposures to lead considering how many holiday light strings over the years were made outside of the USA and may have unknown content

  2. Brad says:

    That’s a great point. Fortunately, you can see them wearing gloves in the video. Even without the lead, come on, they’re working with wires and glass. Letting them work with bare hands would be a liability.

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