How to have a green Christmas: eco-friendly lighting

Each year, Americans who light up their houses for the holiday season consume 66 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity — enough to run 14 million refrigerators, according to a study from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Though that's just 0.2% of the country's total electricity usage, it's more than the national electricity consumption of many countries including El Salvador, Ethiopia and Cambodia, according to the Center for Global Development. The festive decorations cost Americans a total of $645 million annually, averaging an extra $12 on a household's December power bill.

To save on energy, money and potentially greenhouse gas emissions, here are some tips for a greener holiday:

• Choose LED lights: Energy-efficient ENERGY STAR certified decorative light strings use up to 75 percent less energy than conventional incandescent lights strands, and are also cool to the touch. For instance, according to a study by ComEd, if the light show at Brookfield Zoo replaced its LED lights with traditional light bulbs, it would use an extra 200,000 kWh of electricity and add 169,000 pounds of carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

• Use a power strip: Because electronics still draw a small amount of energy when plugged in, a power strip will completely shut the power off to avoid a phantom load.

• Set a timer to help you remember to power down all decorative lights when going to bed or leaving the house.

• Avoid excessive light use: If you've strung lights throughout the house or around a tree, consider turning off your regular lighting when showcasing your new decorations.

One of the most eco-friendly holiday light practices is recycling them once they're broken — after double checking they can't be fixed through steps like replacing a blown fuse or a bad bulb.

Most municipalities offer holiday light recycling drop-off at their municipal buildings or local electronics recycling centers. Towns will typically take lights until January or February.

For instance, Arlington Heights has light recycling available from Nov. 13 to Feb. 23. Lights can be taken to a recycling bin in front of the Public Works building at any time, or to the Health Department in Village Hall during normal business hours.

Some places will take lights year round, such as SCARCE in Addison, Elgin Recycling Center in Elgin, Electronics Recycling Center in Naperville, and the Glenview Transfer Station in Des Plaines.

The Glenview Transfer Station offers electronic drop-off Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. for residents of the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County, which encompasses 23 suburban communities including Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect and Palatine.

When holiday lights are recycled, the primary material that's being reclaimed is copper, said Jeff Stagg, the Director of Midwest Operations with eWorks Electronics Services Inc. Stagg's outfit, which is based in Elk Grove Village, partners with DuPage County and others to offer year-round electronics collection.

While copper is the most valuable material sorted in the process — as well as the easiest to extract — plastic can also be ground up and recycled depending on the type of lights and the processor, Stagg added.

• Jenny Whidden,, is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see

  Villages offer bins where residents can drop off old or unwanted holiday lights. This one is in the lobby of the Elk Grove Village Municipal Complex. John Starks/
  Villages offer bins where residents can drop off old or unwanted holiday lights. This one is in the lobby of the Elk Grove Village Municipal Complex. John Starks/
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