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Recyclers ready for tons of TVs after switch to digital

January 25, 2009

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

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