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Dispose of your television properly

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When the time comes to retire your current TV or an old set that you've been holding onto, give it a dignified send-off as a thanks for its years of service. Don't just trash your television—donate, sell, or recycle it.

Delay disposal

The two main reasons for saying goodbye to your TV are that it's broken or you want a set that's thinner, flatter, bigger, clearer, sharper, and with other fancy features. But fixing or revamping your television may extend its life, keep it out of the waste stream, and save you the typically hefty investment of springing for a new TV.

  • To repair or not to repair? If your TV breaks, consider repair before you decide to part ways, especially if it's covered by a standard or extended warranty. For those with expired warranties, try free tech support by phone that some manufacturers or retailers may offer. Also, try your TV manual's troubleshooting section or look for help online. Should your problem call for a professional, get in touch with the manufacturer to locate authorized repair shops and also consider independent repair shops. Consumer Reports advises that repairs are not worth it if they're going to cost more than half the price of a new TV.[1]
  • Consider an upgrade. For a TV that seems behind the times, you may be able to pump up your set to a righteous (or acceptable) level by adding some features or making adjustments instead of ponying up for a new set. GreenerChoices from Consumer Reports has advice on how to improve your TV's visual and audio performance as well as how to install surround sound so your bones will vibrate along with the action.

How to dispose of your television properly

 

  • Donate. Provided your set's still functioning well and the picture doesn't look like wavy gravy or pure fuzz, give it to a friend or relative or check to see if local community centers, churches, or nursing homes can use your TV. National groups such as Amvets, Salvation Army, and Goodwill accept working televisions. Some Habitat for Humanity stores called Habitat ReStores accept TVs. Call the nearest ReStore first to see if televisions are taken. Excess Access matches donations of business and household items, including TVs, with the wish-lists of nearby nonprofits that can pick up items or will accept drop-offs. It operates in the US, Canada, and beyond. Another option is Freecycle, a grassroots, nonprofit movement of more than 4,000 groups (membership is gratis) who give and get stuff for free in their own towns.

  • Sell that set. If your set works well and isn't too old, why not pass it along to someone else and earn a few bucks in the process? List it in your local classified ads or try craigslist.
  • Recycle your TV. Done-for electronics, including televisions, are combined into the category of electronic garbage known as e-waste. Because of toxic materials inside these products, most notably lead and mercury in TVs, landfilling them could cause these metals to leach into the ground and water or into the air if incinerated. More than a thousand communities now offer electronics collections as part of household hazardous waste collections or special events.[2] Check with your municipality to see if they offer this service. The following organizations provide info about where you can eCycle your television.
    • E-cycling Central This is the Electronic Industries Alliance's website that allows you to click on any state on the US map to find recyclers.
    • MyGreenElectronics To use this part of the Consumer Electronics Association's dedicated eco-site, enter your zip code to get contact info for the closest recyclers, including how far you'll have to travel and a map.
    • Earth 911 lists places to recycle all kinds of items, including TVs (search under electronics). Type in your zip code and learn whether each listing is a municipal or commercial drop off, a hazardous household waste collection, a special program, and resident restrictions.
  • Before you recycle... ask questions. Concerns have been raised about environmentally unsound recycling practices for e-waste and about the exportation of a high percentage of electronics (see Controversies below). The Electronics Industries Alliance has come up with a list of questions to ask potential recyclers to make sure your TV is being handled properly. The Basel Action Network has a list of eCyclers they call e-Stewards who have taken their Electronics Recycler's Pledge of True Stewardship that means in their words, "no dumping, no exports, no prisons".[3] Consumer Reports GreenerChoices also has three questions you should pose to potential recyclers.
  • Send it back. Some electronics manufacturers now take back certain products for recycling at the end of their lives. With Sony's 2007 launch of a nationwide recycling take back program,[4] they became the first manufacturer to take back their old televisions.[5] Stay tuned to see if other TV manufacturers will follow suit.

Disposing of your television properly helps you go green because…

  • Recycling your TV reduces the amount of toxic substances that end up in landfills and enables the reuse of many resources, including heavy metals, thereby limiting the need to use virgin raw materials.
  • Donating your television extends its useful life and offers opportunity to organizations and individuals that can make use of secondhand equipment.

Although e-waste accounts for less than 2 percent of the solid waste stream,[6] it's the fastest growing portion, escalating at rates around 8 percent a year.[7] In 2005, approximately 2 million tons of e-waste was generated according to US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates, but only 15 to 20 percent of that was collected for recycling.[6] That recycling rate has held steady between 1999-2005 due to the fact that, though more people recycle, the amount of electronics ready for disposal has grown at a greater rate.[6]

An estimated 13.4 million TVs are thrown away in the US each year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.[8] Older televisions that contain cathode ray tubes have 4 pounds of lead in them[9] and account for the largest source of lead in the waste stream.[10] Flat panel TVs contain less lead but more mercury.[7] Toxic flame retardants that persist in the environment and that studies suggest can accumulate in the food chain are used in the plastic housings of many TVs.[8] Improperly disposed of, these toxic chemicals can enter the land, air, and waterways and cause harm.

Double jeopardy

A couple of issues up the ante for TV disposal's situation. The biggest—the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s mandated transition to digital television (DTV) on February 17, 2009—could send the numbers of TVs destined for the landfill or recycling soaring. After that date, analog televisions will not work unless they have a converter box to receive the digital signals.[11] The concern is that people who own analog TVs will decide that now is the time to dump their old TVs and make the move to high-def viewing.[12] The other looming issue is that people hold on to their old electronics, and TVs in particular. Between 1980 and 2005, 180 million electronic products had amassed, stored in basements, garages, offices, closets and homes and of that amount, televisions account for 34-52 percent (by weight).[13]

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.[14] Mercury, too, is toxic even in low doses and can cause brain and kidney damage.[15] 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.[16] Thus, televisions disposed of in landfills or incinerators could leach their harmful chemicals into groundwater or the air.

Controversies

Disassembly of televisions is manually intensive and expensive, with LCDs (used in LCD TVs and other products) notably time-consuming to take apart.[17] For this reason, about 50-80 percent of all recycled e-waste is shipped to countries such as China, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan.[7] In 2005, an estimated 61 percent of TVs and CRT monitors collected for recycling were exported for remanufacture or refurbishment.[13] Some of this e-waste is then burned or thrown into rivers or old irrigation ditches, causing serious environmental problems in those countries. Additionally, some electronics waste operations take place in prisons, where prisoners are not subject to worker protection laws and are paid below minimum wage.[7] Environmentally conscious design of televisions that strives to reduce toxics and improve recyclability is key to improving the global problem of e-waste.

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