China: Where American Christmas tree lights go to die. And be recycled.

A few years ago I was walking through a Chinese scrap yard when I came across a small pile of Christmas tree lights. There weren’t many there, but the encounter stuck in my mind. How on Earth did those lights move to China? And why? Like many writers, I keep a mental file of questions that I’d like to answer if and when I find the time … but never get around to answering.

Well, as it happens, this fall I found myself traveling with somebody who – one afternoon – revealed to me that there was much more to that small pile of Christmas tree lights that I’d originally assumed. That conversation became a phone call that, in mid-November, sent me to Shijiao, a small town in Guangdong Province that, by estimation, qualifies as the Christmas Tree Light Recycling Capitol of the World. On an annual basis the town’s recyclers import, and recycle, at last 20 million lb of the lights.

Part of my visit – not all of it – is outlined in a dispatch that’s just gone up at the Atlantic’s site, “The Chinese Town That Turns Your Old Christmas Tree Lights Into Slippers.” The text is accompanied by video that I took inside of one such factory (a first for me). If you’ve never been inside of a Chinese scrap recycling plant, well, this is a good place to start.

In other news: long-time readers may recall that this blog has a long, two-year tradition formally known as 141 Shanghai Christmas Trees. It was my intention to do a third edition of the series in 2011. But, alas, other commitments – such as chasing down Christmas tree recycling plants – has gotten in the way of doing that. Maybe next year.