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TV makers taking steps to reduce e-waste

January 15, 2009

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.


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