Recyclers ready for tons of TVs after switch to digital

Kalamazoo Gazette
Robyn Rosenthal

KALAMAZOO, MI — The switch to digital television signaling could create an environmental nightmare across the nation as consumers get rid of their outmoded analog TV sets.

But that doesn’t have to be the case locally, where area residents can recycle their electronics for free.

“It’s easy and convenient, and we want to let people know that we’re tuned in to them,” said Tom Dewhirst, facility manager for Kalamazoo County Household Hazardous Waste.

Kalamazoo County Household Hazard Waster Center technician Rob Crane stacks a television set inside the center Wednesday afternoon. The T.V. will be stored at the center until it is shipped to Grand Rapids-based Valley City Environmental Services, where it be will dismantled and recycled. According to Tom Dewhirst, facility manager at Kalamazoo County Household Hazardous Waster Center, nothing from the T.V. will end up in a landfill. Photo: Jonathon Gruenke, Kalamazoo Gazette

The organization collects electronics at least three times a week at its Lamont Avenue location in Kalamazoo. Residents may recycle up to four electronic items — including stereos, monitors, DVDs and televisions — a year for free.

Televisions are considered two items, and console televisions are only taken if the consoles have been removed. Small electronics, however, such as cell phones, don’t count toward the four free items.

“We found it a really popular program,” Dewhirst said. “This time of year, everything is about electronics.”

Between the Superbowl, which traditionally has given sports fans an excuse to trade up to bigger TVs, and the imminent switch to digital programming, which is scheduled for Feb. 17, environmental groups are estimating that 90 million televisions will become obsolete.

‘Tsunami of televisions’

Environmentalists fear people will kick those TVs to the curb and that the components — which contain such toxic wastes as lead and mercury — will end up in landfills here and in Third World countries, causing serious health and environmental hazards.

“We think whether the switch happens now or in the next couple months, there will be a tsunami of televisions destined for landfills and very crude recycling programs in Third World countries, both of which are not good options,” said Robin Schneider, national vice chairwoman of the Electronics Take Back Coalition, which promotes green design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry.

“People are understanding more and more that it’s not a good idea to put your TV in your trash can or on the curb, but it still happens. Rarely does a day go by when you don’t see some kind of electronics on the street corner.”

Take-back effort

The group is pushing for manufacturers to voluntary recycle their products. So far, six out of 18 major manufacturers have started some type of e-waste-recycling program.

The coalition also advocates for states to pass take-back laws that require manufactures to recycle their products. So far, 16 states and New York City have such laws. Michigan does not have a take-back law.

“Most of them passed in the last two years. It’s an idea that’s catching on like wildfire,” Schneider said. He said such laws take the cost of recycling from local governments. “The goal, as the producers are responsible for recycling, they will have a bottom-line incentive to redesign,” he said.

“We want the purchase price to reflect how efficiently the product can be built, marketed and recycled.”

Best Buy Co. Inc. this year started an electronics-recycling program at select markets in Minnesota. Mark Cassar, services manager at the Best Buy store on South Westnedge Avenue in Portage, said the program is expected to roll out to all the retailer’s stores later this year. He said Best Buy currently hauls away televisions only in cases in which it is delivering new ones.

Increased effort

Locally, recycling of electronics has increased from none in 2004 to 33 percent, or 182,000 pounds, in 2008 of all hazardous materials taken at Kalamazoo County Household Hazardous Waste, Dewhirst said. Recycling of televisions increased 40 percent between 2007 and 2008, he said.

“There’s a lot of factors at work. A lot has to do with general greening,” he said. “People are starting to think ‘Oh yeah, I can’t just throw this stuff away. It’s not away.”

Dewhirst said electronic items recycled through the county are trucked to Valley City Environmental in Grand Rapids. Once there, the items are dismantled down to the individual components and recycled.

“We’re not interested in shipping it to poor countries,” Dewhirst said. “We’re trying to practice good stewardship. We don’t want to collect all this stuff only to find out it’s creating a problem elsewhere.”

Dewhirst said Kalamazoo County Household Hazardous Waste pays Valley City Environmental 10 cents per pound to recycle its electronics. Fifty percent of Kalamazoo County Household Hazardous Waste’s budget is funded by the county, and the remaining is paid by area municipalities.

The Electronics TakeBack Coalition is pushing for manufacturers to recycle used televisions. Sony, Samsung and LG have launched national recycling programs, and earlier this month Panasonic, Sharp and Toshiba announced they will have a national program in all 50 states by the end of the month. The coalition issued a report card ranking major TV manufacturers and retailers on their efforts to establish programs to take back and recycle old TVs. Here are their scores:

A — No companies.

B — Sony (the first company to launch a national take-back program).

C — Samsung, LG, Wal-Mart.

D — Toshiba, Best Buy, Sharp, Panasonic.

F — Funai, Hitachi, JVC, Mitsubishi, Philips, Thomson, Vizio, Target, Sanyo.
Why recycle?

• Each tube television contains 4 to 8 pounds of lead, as well as these dangerous heavy metals: mercury, chromium, cadmium and brominated fire retardants.

• Flat screen televisions, which use more modern technology, contain mercury.

Source: Kalamazoo County Household Hazardous Waste

On the Web

Austin wants zero waste status by 2040

Logo Central TX Waste Alliance CTZWA -Well Stop at Nothing copyNews 8 Austin
Associated Press

The City of Austin is now the only City in Texas attempting to go zero waste. Austin City Council Thursday adopted a plan to eliminate trash from area landfills by 2040. The city started working on the plan back in 2005.

The new 90 gallon recycling carts are a part of the plan already in place.

A group by the name of the Central Texas Zero Waste Alliance has formed to help the city reach its goal.

“It’s really going to take everyone working, whether it’s through their school and starting composting programs at their schools or at their neighborhoods or figuring out how to recycle more at your workplace. There is a role for everyone who wants to get involved.”

Currently about 30 percent of the trash in Austin gets recycled. The city by the bay, San Francisco, leads the way in when it comes to zero waste. San Francisco recycles almost 80 percent of its trash.

TV makers taking steps to reduce e-waste

KVUE News: Green Right Now
Harriet Blake

BBImages-sa_express_5_21_08E-waste is a dirty word to anyone who cares about the environment. With the constant upgrades consumers get with computers, cell phones and TVs, it’s no surprise that electronic waste is the fastest growing part of American waste. And on top of that, e-waste is often exported to undeveloped countries, where its toxicity is damaging to the those who live there.

Today, with the Feb. 17 deadline to convert to digital television approaching, there’s concern that the number of analog TVs dumped into landfills will grow exponentially. (The U.S. will stop broadcasting on analog airwaves and broadcast only in digital. Digital offers better picture and sound, as well as more channels.)

That’s why environmentalists were excited to learn last week that Panasonic, Sharp and Toshiba announced that they are offering free recycling programs in all 50 states by the end of January. The announcement came at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“Panasonic, Sharp and Toshiba have come around to the product-take-back side,” said Jeff Jacoby, a spokesman for the Texas Campaign for the Environment that was involved in the TakeBack My TV campaign.

“We’re pleased they will have more collection sites than other companies, however there’s only two drop-offs in all of California,” says Jacoby. “That’s unacceptable. People are not going to drive that far. They will take the path of least resistance. So while we applaud these companies for taking a positive step, we also need to see them make an effort to get recycling to more consumers and do more responsible recycling.”

Responsible recycling means that the item goes to a responsible recycling facility. There are a number of companies that have taken the e-steward pledge which means they’ve signed a pledge not to export e-waste overseas and to document where it ends up. There’s been a lot concern that as much as 80 percent of America’s e-waste ends of overseas.

“In Texas, we have three e-steward companies,” says Jacoby. “They are: Intechra in Carrollton and ECS Refining in Terrell (both Dallas suburbs) and Corona Visions in San Antonio. Texas is in the middle of the pack as far as responsible recycling goes.”

When old electronics go to a responsible recycling center, they are first labeled with a bar code. If the item still works, it will be refurbished and resold, says Jacoby. If it works partially, the item is dismantled into components. The working components are then used to build other products. The parts that do not work and can’t be reused, are crushed up and sold as bulk metal or plastic.

“Good recyclers can recycle as much as 98 percent of an item,” says Jacoby.

The United States has yet to sign the Basel Convention which is a global treaty regulating the export of hazardous waste to developing countries. 60 Minutes and Time magazine recently reported that much of exported e-waste ends up in China, where lower-income residents recover the lead by heating circuit boards and burn off bits of gold by using acid. As a result, the residents are exposed to high levels of cancer-causing dioxins, which has been linked to an increase in miscarriages.

As for the upcoming digital television conversion, President-elect Obama is considering having it postponed.

“We’d be extremely pleased if Obama does this,” says Jacoby. “Until there is a comprehensive recycling program in place, a government-mandated planned obsolesence needs to be postponed.”

Such a postponment, he says, will give more time to TV manufacturers to start recycling programs. It will also allow Congress time to pass legislation ending the export of toxic e-waste to developing countries.

Fear and Greening in Las Vegas

Popular Science
Abby Seiff

Almost one year ago to the day, at a CES where energy-efficient gadgets were touted strictly for how eco-friendly they were and not for their budget-consciousness, three of the industry’s giants announced a joint e-waste recycling venture. In tough times it is not only the extras that go but the things that are deemed not strictly necessary in that we did not have them before and we managed more or less. E-waste recycling could have become one of those things, indeed still might, but at least at this year’s show it looks like the foothold it gained in years past is solid.

The biggest booths all boast sections now devoted not simply to the newest line of greener products, but to the company’s e-waste initiatives. As for last year’s recycling venture, the Electronics Manufacturers Recycling Management Company (formed by Panasonic, Sharp and Toshiba) has shown reasonable growth.

MRM claims more than 280 locations to drop off consumer electronics, at least one in each state. Sony has a similar program; and each company has at least a few of its own initiatives under way. Toshiba’s Green Program pays you to recycle. Ship them your garbage-bound gadget (made by any company) and they’ll pay you the trade-in value. Panasonic recently launched a nationwide program aimed at increasing the number of recycling drop off points across the country. And Sony says they’re aiming for a “pound-for-pound” initiative—one pound recycled for each pound of electronics created (though, no goal date on that one).

The poor economy, all say, has had no effect on the budget allocated to e-waste management programs. “We’ve made a commitment to this,” says Mark Sharp, [a TK] with Panasonic’s Corporate Environmental Department. “We’re not turning back just because times are tight.”

What the recession might affect, paradoxically, is the previously-predicted influx of junked TVs come February. Slacker or luddite analog-TV owners, could have, presumably, used next month’s digital-to-analog broadcast conversion as an excuse to replace an old television, potentially overwhelming recycling centers unprepared for the glut of toxin-laden sets. Instead, it’s likely many more will opt to hang on to the old set a while longer, adding just a set-top converter. This leaves centers in a better spot, though critics still insist more companies should be taking a proactive stance on recycling TVs. At CES, protesters with the Electronics TakeBack Coalition roamed the street dressed liked zombie televisions, speaking out against a slew of companies who have failed to implement adequate television take-back policies in the face of the signal conversion.

Photo: Abby Seiff, Popular Science

At the Toshiba booth, a British spokesperson marveled over the company’s green initiatives: “In Europe there’s government directives, but in the states it’s far more voluntary.” And indeed, it is commendable how the industry has begun to take it upon itself to ensure that its products are less harmful at both ends of life. But perhaps there’s something to be said for “directives”.

Eco-activists push for TV recycling at CES

zombiesCESKVBC News Las Vegas
Jerry Brown

As you filled out your holiday list of new electronic gadgets you just had to have, did you give any thought to what happens to old, outdated equipment?

Thursday at CES, the problem of television recycling was being addressed. The emphasis is on cutting edge technology, such as Sony television sets which are eco-friendly and use 40 percent less power.

Outside the electronics show, activists turned the spotlight on another timely question: what happens to old TVs that aren’t recycled? Dressed as analog TV zombies, they paraded down Convention Center Drive en route to a press conference.

“After the digital TV switch, a lot of people are going to say ‘no one’s going to want my old analog TV, I need to get rid of this,’ and we expect to see an e-waste tsunami of electronic trash headed for our landfills,” Robin Schneider with Texas Campaign for the Environment, said.

Some companies, such as Sony, Samsung, and LG, already have recycling programs, and they’re aiming high: they want to have recycling centers nearby for 95 percent of America’s population.

“Ultimately we want to have a recycling center within five miles of at least 95 percent of the American population,” Schneider explained.

Activists targeted companies like Mitsubishi, Philips, JVC, and Hitachi, which, they claim, have yet to address the recycling problem.

There is good news for advocates of recycling. At the CES convention, industry giants Toshiba, Panasonic, and Sharp announced that they are starting a national recycling program for analog TVs.

Campaigners highlight ‘toxic TVs’

BBC News
Maggie Shiels

bbc_zombiesZombie protesters at CES ’09: Campaigners say more should be done to recycle old TVs

Campaigners are warning of a flood of toxic waste from old TVs and have called on manufacturers to do more to recycle them. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC) took their protest to the world’s biggest electronics show in Las Vegas.

Protesters, dressed like zombies, were at CES to highlight the potential health risks from dumped TVs.

“TVs are full of toxic materials and they live on, even when you throw them away,” said ETBC’s Barbara Kyle.

The ETBC estimates that monitors and televisions contain an average 3.62kg of lead, which can be very toxic, especially to children.

“An average home has two or three televisions per household,” Ms Kyle added.

“The US Environment Protection Agency says there are 99 million unused stored TVs in the US. They are unused and sitting there stored in the closet.”

TV Tax

The coalition also produced a “report card” to highlight which companies have dealt with TV waste well and which have not. While Sony was top of the list for being the first to introduce a voluntary programme to take back waste, most, like JVC, Mitsubishi, and Hitachi, were given a failing grade for having no scheme at all.

Ms Kyle said manufacturers have a long road ahead.

“We want this industry to step up and make it easy for consumers to find a responsible recycling programme to take their TVs back and not throw them in the trash.”

New York State Assembly member William Colton, chair of the Legislative Committee on Solid Waste management, has suggested a tax on TV makers to hold them responsible for materials going into their products.

“If we can tax soda based on the claim that it is increasing childhood obesity, than we can tax manufacturers for their production of harmful metals in electronics, which, if leeched into the air or water, can cause developmental problems in children if they are exposed,” said Mr Colton.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said this week its recycling program, eCycling, collected and recycled close to 31,000 tonnes of used electronics in 2008, nearly a 30% increase over 2007. That includes computer waste as well as televisions.

EPA under fire

Meanwhile, the US Government Accountability Office late last year lambasted the EPA and electronics recycling efforts in general. It said many American companies were dumping everything from cell phones and old computers to televisions in countries such as China and India, where disposal practices were dangerous to people and the environment.

The coalition’s protest at CES comes ahead of the changeover from an analogue to digital TV signal in America next month, which will lead to millions of analogue TVs will become obsolete.

Ms Kyle predicting they will end up in landfill sites.

“Lots and lots of TVs will be thrown away with the switchover and we want the companies that are trying to persuade everyone to buy new sets to take them back and recycle them,” she said.

“It’s time to take responsibility and follow the lead of the computer companies with free take-back programmes. It’s time to step up and be counted.”

Making reusable a requirement

San Antonio Express-News
L.A. Lorek

A sea of plastic bags clogging city drains, endangering wildlife and contributing to landfill waste has become a major concern in the United States and worldwide.

Now Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, has filed Senate Bill 338 for the upcoming Texas legislative session, which would require businesses that provide customers with plastic checkout bags to also offer for sale a reusable bag as an alternative.

The reusable bag would have to be reasonably priced and could be made of cloth or other machine washable fabric, a thick plastic or other material. The bill also would require that a business provide a plastic checkout bag recycling program if it offers plastic bags to customers.

“This is meant to reduce the havoc these bags have on the environment,” Van de Putte said.

She proposed the legislation after her son, Paul, 19, a sophomore majoring in environmental studies at Texas A&M, told her it takes 1,000 years for a plastic bag to break down in a landfill. She asked her staff to research the matter.

“We looked at how destructive these plastic bags really are,” she said.

Since then, Van de Putte has met with many retailers and has received a lot of positive feedback on the legislation. She’s also met with officials at the San Antonio Water System and the city’s Solid Waste Management Department, who have told her how problematic and costly the plastic bags have become. They clog sewer and water lines and lead to a whole host of problems, she said.

Van de Putte also met with people in the fishing industry. Plastic bags threaten fish, turtles, birds and other wildlife who mistake the debris for food.

“It’s a start,” Robin Schneider, executive director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, said about the proposed legislation. But she says more measures need to be put into place. She would like to see the state mandate that stores recycle a set number of plastic bags and eventually move to ban them altogether.

U.S. consumers annually use billions of plastic bags, made out of petroleum. Plastics are an increasing part of municipal solid waste, according to a 2005 Environmental Protection Agency report.

In 1960, plastics made up 390,000 tons, or less than 1 percent, of overall municipal solid waste, but that has since increased to 28.9 million tons, or nearly 12 percent in 2005, according to the EPA. And it reports that less than 1.7 million tons, or 5.7 percent, of that plastic was recycled.

H-E-B Grocery Co. supports the plastic bag legislation and has worked with Van de Putte on it, said spokeswoman Dya Campos. It also sells canvas shopping bags and other reusable bags in a variety of styles starting at 99 cents at its checkout stands.

“In a perfect world, every customer would use a reusable bag,” Campos said. “But we realize our customers need options.”

H-E-B provides recycling bins in every store for customers to recycle soft plastic bags. In 2008, H-E-B recycled 3 million pounds of plastic bags, Campos said.

On April 22, Whole Foods quit using disposable plastic grocery bags at its checkouts, said Suzy Holleron, spokeswoman at the Alamo Quarry Market store in San Antonio. It now offers customers 100 percent recycled paper bags and sells reusable shopping bags.

“We’ve had no negative feedback on it,” Holleron said. “Everyone’s aware of their carbon footprint. They understand the importance of taking this step.”

The nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, has pledged to reduce plastic bags handed out in its stores by one-third from 2008 levels by 2013, according to a news release.

The Environmental Defense Fund, which has calculated global consumption of plastic bags at 4 trillion per year, estimates Wal-Mart could eliminate 9 billion plastic shopping bags annually from its stores.

In 2007, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban plastic bags in grocery stores and pharmacies. Other cities such as Austin, Dallas, New York and Seattle have studied the issue. The movement to ban plastic bags isn’t limited to the United States; it’s gone global.

Last year, China banned retailers from using ultra-thin plastic bags, according to the Environmental News Service in Beijing.

Eventually, Van de Putte would like to see Texas ban plastic bags altogether. But she thinks that is a few years away. This bill is a good first start, she said.

Whenever she goes shopping, Van de Putte totes reusable bags in the back of her car to take into the store. It’s all about changing behavior to benefit the environment, she said.

“I’m seeing people toting reusable bags more and more,” she said.