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Christmas Light Recycling
December 27, 2011 9:18 PM   Subscribe

How Christmas lights are recycled in one of China's many recycling factories (with video). Reported by Adam Minter (whose blog, Shanghai Scrap, explores many aspects of the scrap and recycling industry in China).
posted by ocherdraco (20 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's really cute - like Santa's elves in reverse - except that instead of Donner and Blitzen they have polychlorodibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorodibenzofurans.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:41 PM on December 27, 2011


instead... they have polychlorodibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorodibenzofurans.

To be fair, and I'm not saying those things aren't a problem overall, the procedure outlined in the recycling process utilized by the company mentioned in the first link probably doesn't contribute much to the general exposure levels for those chemicals. All they're doing is cutting/pulverizing/macerating the wire. None of those seem to fit the following criteria, as twoleftfeet's article [correctly] mentions:

Noxious chemicals and metals, such as lead, are released when the used electronics are dunked into pits of acid and heated over coal-fueled grills [Emphasis mine]

So while I guess they may be exposed to some solder or circuit board material in trace amounts, I'd say they're part of the solution, not so much the problem... But honestly all that's a red herring in the face of the conclusion of the article, which I happen to share regarding our society in general, but specifically christmas lights in this case: ...only to throw them into the recycle bin, guilt free, when a bulb breaks. Sad... so sad and wrong to behave in such a way, both for one's self/pocketbook and for one's planet.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:49 PM on December 27, 2011


The 60 Minutes coverage of Chinese recycling was very in depth.

Watch for the footage of a dude just casually pouring fuming aqua regia into a big dumpster. Reminds me of that footage of some Indian guys shoveling big bales of Asbestos with pitchforks.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:01 AM on December 28, 2011


in an age defined and owned the Dark Cult of the Endless Apple Upgrade, the use of anything short of an HDTV flat-screen must seem hopelessly antiquated (that’s what Apple would like you to think, anyway)

WTF? I can't take anything this guy says seriously after this. Of the people i know, the apple people were the slowest to get flat panels, and upgrade less. The PC people i know must always have the fastest newest computers, mostly for the latest games. Heck, i'm typing this on my 2003 macbook. Meanwhile i've needed to upgrade my pcs close to every year just to keep up.
posted by usagizero at 1:11 AM on December 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I always wondered what the sherbet bombs from the Chinese grocer were made of. In all those different colours.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:22 AM on December 28, 2011


Chinese recycling has a long way to go, but this process seems safer and cleaner than most. I can't believe that 20 million pounds of lights are trashed annually! I'm hoping my LED xmas lights will last for many years.
posted by orme at 3:32 AM on December 28, 2011


Don't take that personally, Apple evangelists. Constant upgrades are a huge problem regardless of manufacturer, but Apple is named presumably because Apple is now bigger than Exxon based largely on sales of disposable electronic gadgets.

If you're buying a new product every year or two because the current ones are breaking, that's the manufacturer's fault. They ought to build machines that last ten years or more and can be modified rather than tossed out and replaced. If you're buying a new product every year or two because you just have to have the latest device, like fashion dorks getting the latest shoes, that part of the pollution is all your fault.
posted by pracowity at 3:34 AM on December 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Check out this blog about mobile phone recycling in China. I was blown away by how they are using old parts to make entirely new devices.
posted by Joe Chip at 4:56 AM on December 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


It seems odd to pick on HDTV flat screens too, since the TV is probably the least upgraded electronic item in most houses.
posted by smackfu at 6:03 AM on December 28, 2011


Planned obsolescence and the light bulb conspiracy. Christmas lights are designed to fail and to be difficult or impossible to replace requiring buying new strings. The people being exploited are first-world consumers who are driven into debt to pay for this endless cycle of buying things. The Chinese are smart, they are the creditors *and* make money by recycling the old stuff. Not glamorous work to be sure but "The world belongs to the energetic." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

> i've needed to upgrade my pcs close to every year

I buy a top-end PC and it's fine for 7 to 10 years. Unless your a gamer PC's last as long as Macs. Even longer if you change over to Linux.
posted by stbalbach at 7:10 AM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Chinese recycle the tinsel directly into the layout of their web sites.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:23 AM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I buy a top-end PC and it's fine for 7 to 10 years. Unless your a gamer PC's last as long as Macs. Even longer if you change over to Linux.

Right. I don't even know what you would upgrade in a new PC every year that would give any meaningful improvements.
posted by smackfu at 7:32 AM on December 28, 2011


I'm lucky if I get a pair of shoe soles to last three months. It absolutely infuriates me. I walk, okay? I don't have a freaking car. I walk to work, I walk to the store. It doesn't matter how much I spend on the shoes, they're worn down in no time flat. I know shoes used to last longer. But now all of the soles are this micropore pseudo-rubber "for cushioning" that melts off my feet like ice on a skillet. FUCK.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:57 AM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The family I spent Christmas with told me, when I remarked on the lights on their tree, that they had bought them in 1981. Since then, two bulbs had been changed.
posted by Nothing at 8:05 AM on December 28, 2011


A company that recycles Christmas lights in the US.
posted by cda at 9:21 AM on December 28, 2011


seanmpuckett: Look here, might help.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:44 AM on December 28, 2011


It seems odd to pick on HDTV flat screens too, since the TV is probably the least upgraded electronic item in most houses.

This was certainly historically true with tube TVs that would last decades and very little change in the actual functionality of the set.

But will it remain true with flat screens, which seem to be built to less ... robust standards and also seem to be acquiring new features at a fast pace (netflix integration, compatibility with phones, etc)
posted by madajb at 9:46 AM on December 28, 2011


That's why manufacturers are adding those features, to drive upgrades, but I don't see anyone really biting. A lot of people can barely even notice HD! The only thing I've seen motivating people are dropping prices, where people upgrade the size on their living room set and then move the old one to the bedroom, the bedroom one to the kid's room, etc. But that's got an upper limit.
posted by smackfu at 9:51 AM on December 28, 2011


Not so fast....

We will then ship the products in bulk to our in-house recycling facility located in Dongguan, China.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:53 AM on December 28, 2011


since the TV is probably the least upgraded electronic item in most houses

My friend just got a Sony/Google TV thing, apparently it was the same price as the competing models. Most of the features are crap...BUT you can plug a thumb drive into one its USB ports and play torrented TV directly (most of the time, some codec issues perpelxed me).

Now maybe he'll be able to Cyanogenmod it etc...

Its very tempting to obsolescence-ate my perfectly reasonable current TV in favor of that feature set on the S/G thing.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:40 PM on December 28, 2011


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