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The lights of the season

BY MITCHELL SCHMIDT | DECEMBER 17, 2009 7:30 AM

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Iowa City officials are spreading more holiday cheer this season in the form of glimmering lights.
City staff hung a total of 520 strands of wire, equaling 52,000 twinkling lights, in Iowa City’s central business district this year — 10 percent more than last year, said Terry Robinson, Iowa City central business district superintendent. Eleven officials from different city departments including parks and forestry spent 204 hours hanging the decorations, Robinson said. The cost for installing the lights was $8,375, which included salaries and material cost, he added.

The bulbs went up before Thanksgiving and will light up downtown Iowa City until around the beginning of February. Being lit for this long period of time, coupled with the damage some lights receive while being taken down, means some will not be reusable next year, Robinson said.

And with a new program at the Iowa City Landfill, the old holiday lights can be recycled properly.
Jennifer Jordan, Iowa City’s recycling coordinator, said local residents are encouraged to recycle their old holiday lights this season. The holiday lights can be dropped off at several locations, including Hy-Vee locations and ReStore.

“That is something we will definitely take advantage of,” Robinson said.

Jordan noted the conductive copper within the holiday wire is reusable.

“The main key with recycling is not wasting resources,” Jordan added. “The materials within [the wires] are still valuable.”

The Iowa City Landfill will take collected lights to a local business to be recycled.

While the amount of copper in a holiday wire is small, it can still be recycled, said Dave Long, president of Midwest Electronic Recovery, an electronic recycling center in Walford, Iowa.

“Wire is wire, copper is copper,” Long said.

During the recycling process, the wires are cut or shredded into smaller pieces. Compressed air then separates the plastic sheaths from the actual metal and leaves the raw copper. The bare metal can then be melted and reused. All types of wires are processed at the same time, from holiday lights to heavy industrial wire, he added.

“The shredder doesn’t care what type of copper goes through there,” Long said.

Copper is priced due to grade and weight. While the weight of holiday light wire is less, Long said processing it with the other wires is efficient.

Long said he usually only sees holiday lights at the center during the winter season and has witnessed only a few hundred pounds of lights this year, a normal amount.

“In the big picture, it’s not a very big thing we see,” Long said, referring to holiday light drop-offs.

Long also noted that copper from seasonal lights would bring about 25 to 30 cents a pound.
Jordan said the landfill plans to collect holiday lights until Jan. 4, but will extend the date if demand continues.

“It’s going well so far,” she added.


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