Twinkling holiday lights are again making an appearance, both across the country and here on campus, as winter festivities draw closer.
But, the negative effects of these lights from their production, usage and disposal are arriving alongside the holiday season as well.
“The number one issue involving Christmas lights is who makes them,” Visiting Assistant Professor of History Lee Irby said.
While there are various types of lights strung up to celebrate the season, the most common are incandescent, LED and solar powered bulbs.
Recently, with China being the largest producer of these bulbs, there’s a rising concern of the environmental and ethical impacts of their manufacturing methods.
According to the New York Times, China’s manufacturing industry is primarily fueled by coal.
In result, the emissions released by production continue to contribute to climate change among other environmental harms.
Additionally, the country has been known for its low workers’ wages.
While there are currently no manufacturers of holiday lights that are entirely American made, which would create controlled and safe working conditions, there are other measures a consumer can take to ensure they support environmentally-sustainable products.
Buyers must look for stores whose suppliers enforce fairness in the workplace as well as seeking products with certifications from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) that regulate safety standards of electronic products.
Some retailers mandating these standards include Home Depot, Urban Outfitters and Amazon.
According to freshman Hannah Duckett, holiday lights play a large role in the cultural ambiance of our holiday season so the likelihood of making them extinct is nonexistent.
“They make it really festive, and make it feel more like Christmas,” Duckett said. “If you have a set time for when the lights come on at night and don’t just have your Christmas tree on all day, it’s not too bad.”
In addition to creating a joyous atmosphere while they are hung up, the lights have more of an economic impact depending on the type of bulb being used.
According to Energy Check, although LED bulbs last longer and use less energy, the initial cost to buy them can be nearly three times the cost of incandescent bulbs.
The disposal of functioning incandescent lights in order to be replaced by more energy-efficient LED lights is yet another concern for consumers to think about.
When it comes to waste removal in Pinellas County, the majority are incinerated, which can release toxic carcinogens, chemicals and carbon into the atmosphere.
Likewise, the burning of copper and wiring within the lights poses an issue with the safety of their disposal.
On the other hand, according to Irby, the electricity used to power the influx of holiday lights for one month out of the year is comparable to being a drop in the bucket of energy use in contrast to the larger scale costs of manufacturing and production like in China.
“Residential electricity use is really not the issue,” Irby said.