Lion Linda Eckard was working as a controller at a local metal recycling center in 2010 when she had a light-bulb moment. Her club in Hanover, Minn. could recycle all those Christmas lights that were being tossed in the trash. It would be like giving two presents in one.

Lions recycling Christmas Lights
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas Lion Dean Eckard makes three or four stops weekly to pick up lights from boxes the Hanover Lions have set around town to collect the broken string lights.

The Lions would be helping to save the environment by keeping discarded lights out of landfills, and they could use the money collected to support their local charities.  They could always use more money for the Hanover Food Shelf, the boys and girls clubs, and the Thanksgiving dinner that the Lions host each year with a catered meal, music, and gifts for local seniors.

Years later, Linda and her husband, Lion Dean Eckard, continue to lead the project for their small but active club of 15. “People know us. We’ve built up a reputation,” says Linda. “I’m amazed every year. I thought there would be a falloff last winter season, but it was one of our biggest years. I guess people were stuck at home so they put more into decorating.”

Over 11 years, not counting the current one, the Lions have kept 32,334 pounds (16 ton) of lights out of the landfills and earned US$6,680 for the community.

Local businesses like grocery stores and gas stations within a 15-mile radius of Hanover support the project by allowing the Lions to put a large Gaylord or shipping box by their front door so people can conveniently drop off their discards from Thanksgiving weekend through the New Year’s holiday. They appreciate it so much that the local Tom Thumb owner starts getting calls before Thanksgiving from folks wanting to know when the Lions’ light boxes will be showing up.

“It’s been rewarding,” says Linda, adding that they couldn’t do it without their Lion volunteers, including her retired husband. Dean Eckard is one of the Lions who makes three or four stops every week to check and empty boxes. Once they’ve collected a trailer-load of lights they’ll drive it 25 miles away to be recycled.

Eventually, recycling centers shred the strings and bulbs into smaller pieces and those pieces are separated into raw materials (plastic, glass, copper) and reused to make new products.

An unexpected bonus for the people of Hanover is that some people put boxes of new unused lights in the box, too, says Linda. They are sorted and donated to families to spread holiday cheer.