Digital TV Transition May Create Tons of E-Waste

Digital TV Transition May Create Tons of E-Waste

The long-awaited digital TV transition began today, leaving millions of Americans without a signal unless they secured a set-top converter box.

Many will replace their older analog TVs with new flashier models, creating a mountain of e-waste that some TV manufacturers are ill equipped to recycle. Some estimate one in four households will throw out a TV this year, which could mean millions of TVs ending up in landfills.

That makes environmental groups worry.

“With the upcoming digital TV conversion looming before us, many people don’t know where to take their old TVs,” Barbara Kyle, Electronics TakeBack Coalition National Coordinator, said in a statement this week.  “There are some responsible manufactures and retailers who offer takeback programs, but unfortunately not all -- including market leader Vizio.”

Kyle called out Vizio and others in its second TV Company Recycling Report Card released Wednesday. Most manufacturers increased their scores compared to the rankings of the first scorecard published in November.

TVs and electronics contain toxic materials, such as lead and mercury, and critics claim they are often shipped to developing countries with lax environmental standards. Of particular concern are the cathode ray tubes used in computer monitors and TVs, each of which may contain up to eight pounds of lead.

No TV manufacturer received an “A” grade in the Electronics TakeBack Coalition’s scorecard; Sony and Samsung received the highest grades: “B-“ with 61 points. Best Buy, which began taking back all TV brands at its stores, earned a “C+” along with Walmart.
TV Recycling Report Card Grades  Electronics Takeback Coalition
Mitsubishi, JVC, Target, Vizio and six others flunked with “F” grades because they lack any voluntary takeback program. The Electronics Takeback Coalition singled out Vizio for additional criticism since it was the second largest seller of flat panel TVs last quarter.

“Vizio is seeing tremendous growth even during these economic times, yet they lag far behind their competitors when it comes to taking responsibility for recycling their old products,” Kyle said.

Even if producers or retailers take back TVs or other electronics for recycling, consumers have little reassurance the items will be handled responsibly, a fact illustrated by a complaint (PDF) filed last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against an electronic waste handler in Oklahoma.

EarthEcycle held e-waste charity drives and sent the electronic proceeds to Hong Kong and South Africa, according to the Basel Action Network (BAN), a nonprofit that tracked the containers overseas. The group estimates 80 percent of e-waste sent to North American recyclers is exported because of the lack of federal laws prohibiting the practice. Nearly 20 U.S. states have mandatory e-waste recycling laws in place.

The group cautioned consumers today to take precautions when disposing of their unwanted analog TVs, urging the public to use recyclers who are certified through the e-Stewards program. E-Stewards companies agree not to export e-waste to developing countries.

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