This is a TV program Perry should love

Austin American-Statesman
Editorial Board

People of a certain age come to realize that marketing boasts of “new and improved” sometimes come attached to products that really are not all that new and perhaps not all that improved. The most new and improved thing on that allegedly new and improved mouthwash might be the label on the bottle.

But there are times when new and improved are precisely the right words for a product. We are living in one of those times. Anybody who has traded in the old big-box TV for a sleek new high-def flat screen understands that we are dealing with a technology that truly is new and improved — and increasingly affordable.

Hail to progress (and football in HD). But what becomes of the old TVs?

The statistics are overwhelming. There are as many as 100 million older, unused televisions sitting around in homes of Americans. (We understand the emotional attachment some of us develop for our trusty TVs.) Older sets can be difficult, and potentially hazardous, to get rid of. There are estimates that 25 million TVs a year are disposed of in the U.S. Only about 20 percent are recycled.

Those numbers show why Senate Bill 329 by Kirk Watson, D-Austin, is such a good idea. The official analysis accompanying the measure by Watson succinctly captures the problem: “This massive amount of electronic waste threatens to overwhelm available landfill space.” What’s worse is the environmental reality that these older TVs contain lead components that can become public health hazards if not properly disposed.

SB 329 would establish a television recycling program requiring manufacturers to take back and recycle a percentage of TVs, based on their Texas market share. A similar program is in effect for computers. It’s time — past time — for a similar program for TVs. So far in the legislative process, most everyone agrees, including the electronics industry. The House last week approved the bill in a 148-0 vote. Back in March, it won 29-2 Senate approval.

At the Senate committee hearing on the bill, there was an impressive and diverse list of witnesses in support of the bill (representing environmental groups, electronics industry organizations, the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and others) and nobody testifying against it.

The bill now goes back to the Senate for consideration of changes made in the House. We trust those differences can be worked out and the measure can win final approval prior to the May 30 end of the regular session.

“It’s not just our environment that benefits, this program would also save local taxpayers money,” said Stacy Guidry, Austin program director for Texas Campaign for the Environment. “We applaud the manufacturers for taking responsibility for recycling old TVs. Our tax dollars should not be spent to subsidize handing this waste.”

Final approval would mean the bill needs one more vote — that of Gov. Rick Perry, who vetoed similar legislation two years ago.

“Texas has repeatedly proven that wise incentives can accomplish environmental progress with far greater success than burdensome mandates, fees, regulations and extensive reporting requirements,” Perry said in his 2009 veto message that complained about “new fees on both manufacturers and recyclers” that “generate unfair results and stifle competition.”

This year’s version includes a change we hope will get Perry on board. TV manufacturers, instead of paying an annual $2,500 fee and collecting their market-share-based number of TVs for recycling, could choose to form “Recycling Leadership Programs” that would include 200 sites or events for the collection of TVs to be recycled. No fee would be required.

Perry should sign SB 329. It doesn’t take a high-def screen to see that this is a good idea for our state.