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China Earth

The Chinese Town Where Old Christmas Lights Go 117

Posted by samzenpus
from the end-of-the-line dept.
retroworks writes "Shanghai based reporter Adam Minter visits where recycled Christmas Tree lighting goes in China. Visiting Shijao, the town known as the Mecca for Christmas tree light recycling, he finds good news. The recycling practices in China have really cleaned up. Plastic casings, which were once burned, are now recycled into shoe soles in a wet process. Minter concludes that even if you try to recycle your wire in the U.S., the special equipment and processes for Christmas light recycling have been perfected in China 'to the benefit of the environment, and pocketbooks, in both countries.'"

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The Chinese Town Where Old Christmas Lights Go

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    The practices for this specific thing may have been cleaned up but China is still buried in a toxic wasteland. I have zero reason to believe they care one whit about the environment...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Penguinshit (591885)
      Seems to me to be more about capturing cheap resources for cheap products that will themselves end up in a burn or landfill. It's just delaying the inevitable.
      • Isn't that the point of the "Reuse" part of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"? To minimise the additional resources extracted when convertable 'waste' is at hand?
        • That assumes a level of altruism. I see this as merely cheaper to obtain material rather than trying to reduce waste. Given China's very recent history I am skeptical. I see someone already modded me down above for a rather neutral statement of opinion. I would love to be proved wrong but until then I am skeptical.
  • by Ostracus (1354233) on Monday December 26, 2011 @03:22AM (#38492468) Journal

    Indeed, if there's a weak environmental link in the chain, it's the American consumers who start it by buying tens of millions of pounds of Christmas tree lights every year, only to throw them into the recycle bin, guilt free, when a bulb breaks. But Li, for one, doesn't mind: that waste is the raw material for his green business.

    The real story is that Americans are so wasteful that they'll throw away a string of lights for the sake of one bulb.

    BTW wonder how their process will deal with LED lights?

    • by Trepidity (597)

      Do people really do this? Is it some sort of laziness, or are people actually unaware that you can change the bulbs? And that it's not even hard to change them?

      • by robbak (775424) on Monday December 26, 2011 @03:43AM (#38492538) Homepage

        Try explaining to your average consumer just how you find exactly which bulb has failed. Many of these things use globes in series, for those who do not know.

        • by million_monkeys (2480792) on Monday December 26, 2011 @06:08AM (#38492886)
          There's no need to explain how to find failed bulbs. Modern lights are designed to keep working with burnt out bulbs. A dead bulb isn't going to affect the rest of the strand. So no searching needed, you just replace the unlit bulbs (or leave them if you're lazy to bother). The lights are still wired in series, but there's a shunt in the bulbs that allows the current to pass if the filament burns out.
          • If a bulb comes loose or gets twisted, that can still take out the whole strand. I bought a strand recently that wouldn't turn on. I had to pull out each bulb until I found the one with the bent leads. If the strand wasn't attached to a Christmas tree that I bought on clearance, I probably would have returned it to the store and it would have ended at the recycling plant in China.

    • by Kenja (541830)
      When a new string of lights costs two dollars, its kind of hard to justify buying replacement bulbs or repair tools. But then I use LED christmas lights and have yet to have one of them go bad.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      I spent a half hour unsuccessfully trying to find the broken bulb in a string of lights. Ultimately, I ended up finding a dozen or so ones that wouldn't light before I gave up. With the amount of time I spent on it, I could have worked an extra half hour or so and just bought another string. It's hard to say how much more time it would have taken me to find out what the issue, for all I know it could have been a wire and not a bulb.

      Last tester I tried was really hit or miss and not much better than manually

      • The quickest way to find the problem is to use an ohm meter.

        Connect one lead of the meter to BOTH of the string plug's prongs. Please be sure it's not plugged in for safety :)

        Starting with a light near the middle, remove it and use the other lead of the meter to test both contacts within the socket. The contact that does not conduct electricity will indicate which side of the string has the break. You have just eliminated half of the lights as the potential problem.

        Place the bulb back into the socket, and d

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Monday December 26, 2011 @05:07AM (#38492782) Homepage

      The real story is that Americans are so wasteful that they'll throw away a string of lights for the sake of one bulb.

      The real story is that the EU made China clean up. Okay, Japan deserves some of the credit too.

      The EU has introduced various rules aimed at cleaning up the pollution created why products are manufactured and disposed of, as well as protecting people's health. ROHS and WEEE are the most well known, and although technically the only apply to countries in the EU the reality is that China has to abide by them as well in order to sell to us and then recycle our waste.

      It is just as shame that two other important initiatives, namely forcing manufacturers to standardise on USB micro/mini for charging and allow batteries to be replaced and removed for disposal, seem to have stalled. None the less it is a triumph for our left-wing socialist nanny-state anti-business anti-competitive anti-trade anti-consumer ecomentalist tree-hugging undemocratic bureaucratic United States of Europe. We made a real difference to our own lives and those of people in China, and even to people in the US since they get a lot of the same stuff from China that we do.

      • by khallow (566160)
        Don't get me wrong, I LOVE to freeride European sacrifice just as much as any other American. But have you ever considered that maybe all this bureaucratic wheel spinning isn't that good for you?
        • by AmiMoJo (196126)

          The thing is it hasn't been a sacrifice for us, it has been a massive benefit. All the dire warnings about prices going through the roof and companies abandoning the biggest market in the world turned out to be scaremongering.

          I don't know why bureaucracy has become automatically bad in many people's eyes. Well, I do know why, it is because certain parts of the media love to harp on about how much money is wasted on it in the EU and government and how all the red tape prevents companies and bankers making qu

      • by Rexdude (747457)

        It is just as shame that two other important initiatives, namely forcing manufacturers to standardise on USB micro/mini for charging and allow batteries to be replaced and removed for disposal, seem to have stalled.

        Stalled where? From my own observation, every non Apple manufactured gadget(*) released within the last 2 years uses USB for charging, and you can freely interchange chargers and USB cables.

        * - Apple uses a non standard way [ladyada.net] to charge the iPhone, so it won't work with anything but an Apple blessed charger.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      The real story is that Americans are so wasteful that they'll throw away a string of lights for the sake of one bulb.

      BTW wonder how their process will deal with LED lights?

      But it never really is one bulb is it? It's one bulb that takes out a potentially long string. On top of that the smaller the bulbs the less likely they are the replaceable types. Different manufacturers also make slightly different bulbs which makes fixing a string potentially impossible. The REAL story is that people manufacture disposable crap. With the cost of a new set of lights less than 10minutes of my hourly rate it gets hard to justify crapping around with a set of lights for an hour.

      I got the shit

  • by not_surt (1293182) on Monday December 26, 2011 @03:44AM (#38492542)

    Surely in this case "the Jerusalem for Christmas tree light recycling" would be more fitting?

    • by RobinEggs (1453925) on Monday December 26, 2011 @04:34AM (#38492702)

      Surely in this case "the Jerusalem for Christmas tree light recycling" would be more fitting?

      No, Mecca is the better word - there's a reason we use it. We say something is the 'mecca' for an activity or industry because of the Hajj [wikipedia.org]. Almost two million foreigners a year visiting one city for one specific ritual makes a pretty good metaphor for colossal, single-minded undertakings - the kind of single-mindedness you see in one town recycling billions of pounds of electrical waste, for example.

      Evoking Jerusalem would be a confusing and less accurate metaphor for the sake of being cute.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        And needlessly demeaning Mecca is better? Seriously, Mecca is more than just the end point of a massive annual pilgrimage.

        • by thegarbz (1787294) on Monday December 26, 2011 @07:27AM (#38493142)

          From the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:

          "Mecca (as n. a Mecca) a place which attracts people of a particular group or with a particular interest: Holland is a Mecca for jazz enthusiasts."

          Mecca in the dictionary has two meanings, as A noun and as a proper noun. We're using one form here, the other form being completely irrelevant. But I wish you all the best of luck in getting a correct and common use of an English word changed.

          • by hedwards (940851)

            Right, because we still refer to black people as Negroes and the Chinese as Orientals. The point wasn't that people don't do it, the point was that it shows a distinct lack of cultural awareness which leads the failure in communication between the US and its allies and the Arab world.

            • by thegarbz (1787294)

              No they don't. It says so right in the Oxford English Dictionary. The term "Negros" has fallen out of favour in the US and the UK and is often consider widely offensive. Similar words are used to describe "Oriental" which goes on to say that the word "Asian" is a more socially accepted alternative.

              It's all written right there. You see the Dictionary is not as dumb a book you think it is, and you know what, if I offend some incredible minority out there by using a proper noun as a noun, then fuck it. I can't

        • by khallow (566160)

          And needlessly demeaning Mecca is better?

          I'm not worried. Sounds like you'll let us know, if it ever happens.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Christmas lights... lol, what a waste religion is.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by PeeAitchPee (712652)
      A Christmas tree is a completely secular symbol, and you are a retard. That is all.
      • He didnt even mention a christmas tree! Also, does it matter how these traditions started if hes just saying theyre wasteful now?
  • by RobinEggs (1453925) on Monday December 26, 2011 @04:54AM (#38492754)
    Now we'll get to listen to conservative bitching about overregulation and how without so many damn environmental laws that recycling could happen here. Then the liberals will answer that corporations would never pay a living wage, or even minimum wage, to do that here when it can be done by miserable overworked hut dwellers in China - environmental laws or not.

    They're both probably right, and both answers make me equally depressed. Exporting work and materials that American liberals won't allow here because of well-meaning but often moronic regulations, but which American conservatives probably wouldn't do here anyway because they're cheap fucks.

    I need a drink.
    • by mangu (126918) on Monday December 26, 2011 @08:48AM (#38493342)

      well-meaning but often moronic regulations

      There are people who don't realize how immensely detailed regulations must be to work. When regulations don't let recyclers release some toxic waste the result is that everything becomes toxic waste.

      Unfortunately those people didn't learn from history. The theory was that a well planned and regulated economy would be more efficient than capitalism, and too many people cannot see that things don't work that way.

      Countries with planned economies could never make detailed enough plans for it to work efficiently. If you do not produce enough six-millimeter bolts with hex heads you will not be able to make enough 1/4 HP electric motors so you will not have enough refrigerators.

      When you consider all the different products an industrial economy needs you would need the whole population of the country working in the plans to make sure all the items needed will be available.

      That's what's called "capitalism". A feedback system where the production of the economy is dynamically adjusted as needed. There's a control variable to allow one to compare the relative urgency in producing each item, this variable is called "price".

      Government regulation should be limited to overall guiding principles, not detailed specifications.

      • by rtaylor (70602)

        Government regulation should be limited to overall guiding principles, not detailed specifications.

        I would agree if pollution had a direct cost associated with it.

        There are many things which have a large value to society (clean air) which have a near zero cost to the people impacting it (air pollution costs $0).

        For capitalism without government regulation to work, someone needs to own the air and be able to charge for modifying its contents. Same for water sources such as large bodies of lakes and oceans; e

      • Computers have imporved a lot since the old USSR. How does your computer with billions of transistors know how to move information around inside itself to meet your needs without using money inside it?
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transistor_count [wikipedia.org]

        How does Debian know what software to make and maintain? Can emails and chat messages act as currency?

        Soon we will have print-on-demand with 3D printers. Does that not also change things? We may also have recycle-on-demand with nanotech devices.

        An alternative idea f

      • Countries with planned economies could never make detailed enough plans for it to work efficiently. If you do not produce enough six-millimeter bolts with hex heads you will not be able to make enough 1/4 HP electric motors so you will not have enough refrigerators.

        That's a classic "free market" claim. Then look at how Wal-Mart works.

        Wal-Mart is a centrally planned economy, run from a headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Store managers have almost no autonomy in the Wal-Mart system. Even the store thermostats are controlled from Bentonville. Purchasing is centralized in Bentonville, where vendors go to the famous Corridor of Doom to present their products to Wal-Mart buyers. ("What can you do for Wal-Mart today?" is how each buyer starts the conversation.)

        Everyth

        • by mangu (126918)

          Wal-Mart is a centrally planned economy, run from a headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.

          Sure, but Target is not run from Bentonville. Neither is Sears or Amazon, or JCPenney. If you cannot find something you need on WalMart there are alternatives.
          The only alternative supplier they had in the Soviet Union was the black market, the Russian Mafia. WalMart is not a closed system like the Soviet Union was and Cuba still is.

          WalMart is just one of many suppliers of common household items, it's nowhere close to the complexity of a modern industrial economy.

          Efficient as modern data processing systems m

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          Wal-Mart's data cycle is daily, and their planning cycle is weekly. Most small retailers don't have that clear an idea of what their stores are actually doing. This gives Wal-Mart a competitive advantage.

          '
          Then why is Wal-Mart's distribution so bone-headed stupid?

          If you're into Transformers toys, there are a few Wal-Mart exclusives that are only available from Wal-mart.

          Inevitably, distribution inequities exist. It can easily be sold out in the West, but shelfwarming (and clearanced) on the East coast.

          It's a

    • by bhtooefr (649901)

      Actually, an answer to that would be, tack on a domestic recycling surcharge to the price - basically, pay for the wages of the domestic recycling workers when you buy the lights.

      What that would do is nearly guarantee that the lights are recycled properly and domestically, while also reducing unnecessary purchase of lights.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    American consumers who start it by buying tens of millions of pounds of Christmas tree lights every year, only to throw them into the recycle bin, guilt free, when a bulb breaks.

    And that is why the rest of the world hates you or thinks that you are fucking nuts.

    • by hairyfeet (841228)

      Really? I thought the reason we are hated is the country has been taken over with war mongers and profiteers that will milk a false flag for everything its worth like how we are now saying Iran did 9/11 [bloomberg.com] which I have to give them credit, first bin Laden, then Iraq and now Iran, they are milking the living hell out of that single "terrorist attack" to enact the neo-con design Wolfowitz came up with back in the 90s.

      Of the countries he listed for conquest all that is left is Iran and Syria and it looks like

  • by assertation (1255714) on Monday December 26, 2011 @09:46AM (#38493584)

    I didn't see any masks on the workers.

    It is hard to believe that process didn't produce any airborne toxins.

    It is also hard to believe that the water added to the crushed lights to make a sludge for processing isn't polluting something somewhere.

    • Read the TFA

      The contaminated water, meanwhile, flows into a recovery system, where it's re-circulated, over and over, through the recycling system.

      The masks? No mention. So I don't know why. But probably the process does not make too much dusk? Or maybe the workers just don't like to wear one. (I don't like to wear a mask for more than 10 minutes.) Masks are cheap in China and one can get reusable ones.

    • by antdude (79039)

      Totally! I cringed as I watched that video. My sensitive body went crazy! :(

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