Can't make it without watching the latest Animal Planet series, finding out who gets bumped on American Idol, or trying to follow Lost's tortuous plot twists? You are among the vast majority of Americans who embrace television as the major form of home entertainment. Total factory-to-dealer sales of all types of TVs were more than $14 billion in 2003 and are expected to more than double to $29 billion in 2008.[1] When trading in an old TV for a newer model, people typically go bigger and many households now have a second or third TV perched in the kitchen or bedroom.

In a report about energy use of televisions, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that US televisions consumed about 4 percent of national residential electricity use in 2004 which comes out to 46 billion kilowatt-hours. They project a more than 50 percent rise to over 70 billion kilowatts per hour by 2009.[2]

Power sippers vs. power guzzlers

The escalation in greenhouse gases emitted due to TV-generated electricity isn't occurring just because many folks size up when buying a new television. As consumers vie for the crispest, clearest picture, they need more juice. If you haven't been TV shopping in several years, the landscape has drastically changed. A 28-inch boxy analog television, which was once the norm and still is used in about 21 million American households,[3] runs on about 100 watts of electricity. A common upgrade, a 42-inch liquid crystal display (LCD) flat panel sucks up twice that amount. A 42-inch plasma flat panel set, the biggest power guzzler, uses 200 to 500 watts which can exceed that of a full-size refrigerator, even though the TV's only turned on a few hours a day.[4] Looking at it another way, sitting in front of your plasma television for three hours a day will increase the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by 250 kilograms annually or less than half the amount for a LCD.[5]

Add on extras such as set-top cable boxes, game consoles, DVD players, and speakers so Junior can play Wii and Mom won't miss her HGTV, and the electric meter keeps spinning. A CNET look at TV power consumption shows that accessories like the Slingbox draws a mere 9 watts and a DirecTV DVR pulls around 33 watts but gaming sucks up the power with Xbox 360 using 187 watts and PlayStation 3 requiring almost 200 watts.[6]

In general, traditional analog TVs—also called CRTs for their cathode ray tubes—use the least amount of power, plasma TVs use the most, and LCD sets fall somewhere in between. Surprisingly, projection televisions (rear and front) which have the largest screen sizes, use less electricity than LCD or plasma displays.[4] Sales of projection TVs, however, are stagnant at best and most likely on a downturn. Plasma TV sales, conversely, are holding steady but at much lower numbers than LCDs. Factory-to-dealer sales of LCDs sprang from a little over half a billion in 2003 to a projected nearly $19 billion in 2008 while plasma TV's factory-to-dealer sales are forecast to be $4.7 billion in 2008, down from $5.3 billion in 2006.[1]

Disposal woes

Aside from greenhouse gas emissions caused by TV use, there's also the issue of proper disposal of these once beloved family members due to malfunction or that they simply don't measure up to the current state of TV technology. When a television's life if over it's lumped into the swelling category of electronics waste or e-waste that accounts for approximately 1 percent of the municipal solid waste stream.[7]

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 2.6 million tons of consumer electronic waste was produced in the US in 2005, yet only 13 percent of this was recycled.[8] Older televisions, that contain cathode ray tubes have 4 pounds of lead in them[7] and account for the largest source of lead in the waste stream.[9] Although the production of CRT glass has increased by almost 300 percent since 1990, the total amount of lead used has dropped by 24 percent due to manufacturer’s efforts to reduce lead levels.[10] Flat panel TVs contain less lead but more mercury.[11] Improperly disposed of, these toxic chemicals can enter the land, air, and waterways and cause harm.

On the other hand, responsibly handling spent televisions so that raw materials can be reused and recycled saves natural resources and prevents air and water pollution incurred in the manufacture of new TVs. An estimated 205,600 tons of materials were recovered from electronics in 2001 and the list included precious metals, steel, glass, and plastic.[12]

The big switch

The problem of television e-waste may worsen exponentially due to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s mandated transition to digital television (DTV) on February 17, 2009. After that date, analog televisions will not work unless they have a converter box to receive the digital signals.[13] The concern is that people who own analog TVs will decide that now's the time to dump their old TVs and make the move to high-def viewing.[14]

Health related issues

The health effects of lead, a highly toxic metal, (lead-based paint is the most publicized example) are well known especially in regards to children who can suffer learning disabilities and seizures from exposure to lead.[15] Mercury, too, is toxic even in low doses and can cause brain and kidney damage.[16] In fact, only one drop of mercury deposited annually from the air into a lake that’s 20 acres would make the fish unsafe for consumption.[17] The worry is that televisions disposed of in landfills or incinerators could leach their harmful chemicals into groundwater or the air.


  • analog television: Traditional analog TVs introduced in the 1930s contain cathode ray tubes or CRTs, hence the nickname "the tube." They function by sending an electron beam through a vacuum tube toward a screen coated with phosphor. When the beam strikes the surface of the screen it produces images.[18]
  • liquid crystal display (LCD) television: LCD technology works by sending varying electrical currents through an ultra thin layer of tiny cells filled with a liquid crystal solution that crystallizes to form the image you see on the screen. These flat panel displays TVs can be placed on a stand or wall-mounted.[18] [19][20]
  • plasma television: This technology is produced by a layer with millions of tiny glass bubbles that contain a gas-like substance, called plasma, that has a phosphor coating. Each bubble is like a pixel with one red, one green, and one blue subcell. When the TV is turned on, a digitally controlled electric current flows through the flat screen, causing the plasma inside certain bubbles to give off ultraviolet rays. This light causes the phosphor coatings to glow the appropriate color.[21]
  • projection television: Commonly called big screens, this type of TV comes in front and rear projection. Both take a small image and reflect it onto a large screen. Rear projection TVs do this with the receiver unit inside the TV. Front projection models project the image onto a wall or stand-alone screen and are often used as home theater systems.[22][13]

External links


  1. Consumer Electronics Association - US Consumer Electronics 2008 Sales and Forecasts
  2. Natural Resources Defense Council - Televisions: Active Mode Energy Use and Opportunities for Energy Savings
  3. New York Times - The Unavoidable Update
  4. The Wall Street Journal Online - That Giant Sucking Sound May Be Your New TV
  5. The New Yorker - Big Foot: In measuring carbon emissions, it's easy to confuse morality and science
  6. CNET Reviews - The basics of TV power
  7. US Environmental Protection Agency - Electronics: A New Opportunity for Waste Prevention, Reuse, and Recycling
  8. US Environmental Protection Agency - Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2005
  9. Northwest Product Stewardship Council – Electronic Equipment and Product Stewardship
  10. National Safety Council – Cathode Ray Tube Manufacturing and Recycling: Analysis of Industry Survey
  11. Computer Take Back Campaign - The problem of outdated, unwanted electronics is huge - and growing still
  12. US Environmental Protection Agency - Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2001 Facts and Figures
  13. Federal Communications Commission - Digital Television: What Every Consumer Should Know
  14. Electronics Take Back Coalition - Background on the Problems with E-Waste
  15. US Environmental Protection Agency - Lead in Paint, Dust, and Soil
  16. US Environmental Protection Agency - Mercury: Health Effects
  17. Electronics Take Back Coalition – Background on the Problems with E-Waste
  18. Panasonic - Televisions: What are the different types of TVs?
  19. Associated Content - Digital-HDTV Glossary
  20. - TV/Video: "Liquid Crystal Display"
  21. Philips - Technology explained: Flat TV, plasma
  22. TV/Video: "Projection"




With water rationing threats and the drought consistently in the headlines, rain barrels are the homeowners’ answer to the current water shortage.

It’s no secret that southern California is facing a devastating water crisis. In communities around the world where it rains consistently, rain barrels are commonly used. Here in Los Angeles, an urban desert, where, not only is the rainfall low, but the drops that do drip are wasted, there is a desperate need to find an alternative to simply turning on the faucet.

Los Angeles, CA March 2, 2009 -

RainBud, a locally-owned company founded by landscape designer Paula Henson and writer Alex Metcalf, is providing Los Angeles area residents with a creative solution to the water crisis: rain barrels. It’s a simple, low-budget system for saving and storing rainwater so that it can be used on those days when no rain falls. This saved water can, in turn, be used to irrigate a garden, wash a car or fill up the kid’s pool when the heat is on, without using one drop of valuable fresh water; making sense environmentally and economically. It’s worth noting that the City of Santa Monica offers residents a $100 rebate on rain barrels.

RainBud’s rain barrels are reused polyethylene barrels retrofitted to fit under rain gutters. Each barrel has a mosquito proof intake screen, an overflow valve and a spigot at the bottom that can be attached to a garden hose or a drip irrigation system. Only recycled food-grade barrels are used; no new plastic is created and RainBud rain barrels can be camouflaged in many interesting ways by painting them or covering them with vines etc.

The statistics are eye opening:
• One inch of rain falling on a 1,000 sq. ft. roof produces over 500 gallons of water.
• Los Angeles has an average rainfall of 14 inches per year.
• The City of Los Angeles is planning to restrict homeowners’ irrigation water use to two days per week.

Currently, in most houses, the pattern goes something like this: rain falls, it runs off the roof into a rain gutter, down a drain into the street and then it runs into the storm drain pulling with it all the debris that it has accumulated along the way and out into the ocean it flows. The overall result: wasted water and polluted oceans.

RainBud’s rain barrels halt this process right at the rain fall stage and assists homeowners in being active when it comes to saving and using water responsibly and effectively. RainBud barrels are recycled, recyclable, local, and easy to install. RainBud provides and installs the barrels, and can advise on location, and possible aesthetic concerns.

Paula Henson, RainBud

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