Friday, January 9, 2009

Digital switch could send flood of TVs to trash

By Bill Theobald • TENNESSEAN WASHINGTON BUREAU • January 9, 2009 WASHINGTON — Environmentalists fear that next month's switch to digital television broadcasting could cause a flood of old televisions, and the toxins they contain, to be tossed in the trash. But electronics industry officials counter that these fears are overblown and that there are plenty of ways for people to continue to use their old TVs or to properly recycle them. Both sides agree that the issue of electronic waste probably will get more attention as the Feb. 17 switchover approaches and that federal legislation is needed to deal with the growing problem, of which televisions are just a small part. "There is a tsunami of e-waste that is going to be created," said Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, which includes environmental groups. "This is the largest government-sponsored planned obsolescence event in history." Kyle said tube televisions are a particular problem because they contain 4 to 8 pounds of lead, which is difficult to extract because much of it is in glass. In addition to lead, federal health officials warn that televisions contain cadmium, beryllium and other dangerous substances. Exposure to high levels of lead can damage the nervous system and other organs. Americans accumulated an estimated 99.1 million out-of-service TVs in 2007, according to a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The same study estimated 6.3 million televisions were collected for recycling in 2007 out of 26.9 million ready to be disposed of. Less than one in five electronic devices disposed of in 2007 was recycled. A Consumer Electronics Association consumer survey done in early 2008 offered a somewhat rosier view with people saying they planned to recycle 25 percent of the 43.5 million televisions they expected to remove from their homes last year. Recycling efforts grow Concerns about how to dispose of televisions have prompted three manufacturers to create their own recycling programs in recent years: Samsung, LG and Sony. Panasonic, Sharp and Toshiba formed a company to help consumers recycle their products. Manufacturers also were driven to act by a flood of state laws, 17 now, that require recycling — not dumping — of electronic products. Companies bridle at having to deal with a patchwork of state laws, but efforts to find agreement on a federal standard have been sidetracked over what will be covered and how a recycling requirement would be funded. Parker Brugge, vice president of environmental affairs for the electronics association, said a bipartisan electronic waste working group made up of House members has been meeting for several years. Kyle doesn't think legislation will move in 2009 and that Congress will instead wait to see which of the various approaches in state laws works best. Recent stories about the export of old televisions and other electronic waste to foreign countries where crude recycling methods expose people to harmful chemicals also may attract the interest of Congress. Advice for consumers Kyle advises people to hold onto their old TVs until laws and government oversight catch up enough to ensure recyclers aren't just going to ship your TV overseas. Brugge advises people to find out whether they are in a state with electronics recycling law and program, and to look for recyclers on the group's Web site Households that rely on over-the-air television signals can purchase a converter box that will allow their old TVs to work just fine.

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