The Digital TV Transition and the Environment

digtv120-thumb.gifFor consumers watching over-the-air television on an analog set, converting to digital will have at least some environmental impact. Adding a converter box means extending the life of an older television; that means not consuming resources to produce and ship a new television, and not putting a toxic-laden box into the waste or, hopefully, recycling stream. But adding a converter box isnâ''t a slam dunk for the environment; old cathode ray tube televisions consume vastly more power than new flat-screen models, and the converter box is a bit of a power-sucker itself.

Neither the FCC nor the consumer electronics manufacturers have dared to predict how many analog television households will choose to add a converter box, or how many will simply replace their television sets. Or how many third or fourth TVs, which were relegated to the basement or a kids room, will simply be disposed of, neither converted nor replaced.

Looking at the numbers, consumers have requested nearly 50,000,000 converter box coupons, nearly 47,000,000 have been mailed. Some 21,0000,000 have been redeemed; some 14,000,000 have expired. Thatâ''s at least 14,000,000 people who decided not to go with a converter box after considering it; I doubt they all signed up for cable. Some of them, as well as, Iâ''m sure, a large number of consumers who never ordered a converter box coupon at all, simply decided that their old analog televisions werenâ''t really worth the hassle of keeping, and have or are going to replace them.

So when analog shutdown day comes, be it 17 February as currently scheduled, or delayed, environmentalists are expecting consumers to dispose of a flood of old CRT televisions. Theyâ''re guessing that, at minimum, at least one in four of the 106,000,000 US households will get rid of at least one TV, probably more. And thatâ''s worrying them. CRT televisions contain leadâ''an average of 1.8 kg per setâ''along with cadmium, mercury, arsenic, and brominated flame-retardants. Recycling them isnâ''t cheap or easy; as a result, many TVs intended for recycling are shipped out to Asian and West African countries, where they are disposed of unsafely.

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition is urging consumers to push manufacturers to take back their own products and recycle them properly. You can find out how responsible the manufacturer of your television is and how to write directly to the company here. (Sony, so far, is the only manufacturer that the Toxics Coalition believes, at this point, is getting it all right.) And, at minimum, you can make sure that when you dispose of a television it goes to a recycling program, not to the dump.

For more of Spectrum's coverage of the planned analog shutdown, see The Day Analog TV Dies.


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