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I recently did something that my parents never would have dreamed of doing.

I threw a string of Christmas lights away.  Actually several.  They stopped working, so I threw them away.  I recall as a child meticulously inspecting every 1” incandescent bulb’s connection before we could make the tree joyous and gay.  It was a tedious undertaking.  Without a good connection good bulbs in series along the entire strand, none of them would work.  And the lights, a set of screw in sockets with clips on the side for hanging off branches, were too expensive to just throw away.  So if the lights did not come on when plugged in, the hunt began, with a few spare bulbs in hand and guesswork starting from the plug end.

All that has changed now.  Lights are so cheap, it is less trouble to get a new strand every time one burns out.  The lights are much smaller than they were tun, with no need to clip them on the branches.  You just loop the strand around the tree, plug it in, and instant cheer.  Or not.  As lights are now sold in drugstores at something under a dollar a foot, there is little thought given to just tossing them and getting some more.  

This Christmas parable about disposability is about resource use, economy of scale, and globalization, of course, but it is also about energy efficiency.  As much as we are wasting the copper, glass, and plastic that goes into these lights by causally throwing them aways, we are saving our energy in managing them, and electricity by using them.  My parents, if they still got a tree, have a a string of bulbs that are about 5 watts each, from the 70s.  I have a collection of strings of bulbs that are well under a watt each, and put out almost as much light.  If I need to replace the strands I threw out this year, it will be with even more efficient LEDs.  If the lights are built for the ages, then there’s little reason to ever replace them.  Meaning that the power consumption of the tree approaches that of the rest of the lights in the house.  The heat off that tree was spectacular too.  Dad always warned me to keep the tree watered and turn the thing off whenever we were asleep or out of the house.  I can barely feel the heat from these bulbs.

Yes, it worries me that I blithely tossed out a pound or so of materials to go to the landfill in another state.  I understand that the march of technology is not always towards conserving more, but is always towards using less. Image