How to Recycle Your TV and Computer
States, companies offer more options for consumers
Article courtesy of ConsumerReports.org
If you're finally ready to get rid of that old TV or computer languishing in your basement, think "recycle." Recycling efforts are growing as HDTV sales increase and as analog TV programming becomes digital, a government-mandated change that takes effect in 2009. There are more municipal initiatives, private programs run by manufacturers or retailers, and state and local laws aimed at keeping this waste out of landfills and enabling or, in some cases, requiring equipment recycling.
While many older TVs and computers are relegated to kids' bedrooms or college dorms, some still find their way onto the trash heap, where their impact is significant. The CRT in a TV or older computer monitor contains two to four pounds of lead on average, and although the Environmental Protection Agency says it is safe to discard TVs in a properly managed landfill, it strongly recommends recycling to promote resource conservation. Many states and municipalities have banned CRTs from landfills in an effort to reduce the high costs associated with handling such materials.
Three Web sites can help you figure out where to recycle your electronics products:
- Consumer Reports' Greener Choices includes an electronics section that links to Earth 911 and TechSoup's directories of recycling services.
- The EPA's Plug-In To eCycling site points you to basic information about electronics recycling and links to recycling and donation programs. More than 60 million pounds of electronics have been recycled via this EPA program.
- eBay's Rethink Initiative brings together manufacturers, the EPA, and environmental groups to help you sort through charities, recycling facilities, and other options.
New recycling laws
Among the legislative approaches are three schemes implemented by Maine, Maryland, and California. Under a first-of-its-kind statute recently implemented in Maine, manufacturers are directly billed for the cost of recycling based on the proportion of waste generated by their products. This approach may provide an incentive for manufacturers to design equipment that lasts longer or is more easily recyclable, recycling proponents.
Consumers in Maine may pay up to $5 when dropping TV sets or computer monitors off at centralized consolidation points. (Before, they paid $15 to $25 for every computer monitor or TV they recycled.) The state estimates that its 1.28 million residents recycle anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 TVs and computer monitors annually, according to Carole Cifrino, coordinator for product management programs in Maine's Department of Environmental Protection division of solid waste management. That rough estimate will be refined after Oct. 1, when the first reports on the program are generated.
Maryland is going in a different direction with its five-year pilot program, which currently applies to computer monitors only but could conceivably be expanded to include TVs. Manufacturers doing business in Maryland must pay an initial, annual $5,000 registration fee that counties and municipalities will use to facilitate recycling. If the manufacturer starts a take-back program, the fee for subsequent years is reduced to $500.
In California, buyers of TVs and computer monitors pay a fee of $6 to $10 at the point of sale. That money is then funneled by the state into a collection and recycling system. While that promotes recycling, it creates no incentive for industry to design longer-lasting products, reuse old components, or make equipment easier to recycle, recycling proponents say.
Still, this approach is favored by several consumer electronics organizations because it solves a number of problems inherent in electronics recycling, says David Thompson, director of the corporate environmental department for Panasonic Corp. of North America. It will raise consumer awareness and eliminate the difficulty involved in enforcing recycling rules and dealing with equipment from unidentified manufacturers.
Consumers Union, the parent company of Consumer Reports, supports the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which holds manufacturers responsible for costs, requiring them to compete for what portion they pass on to consumers.
Several bills pending in Congress also address the issue, including the Electronic Waste Recycling Promotion and Consumer Protection Act. This Senate bill provides tax credits for consumers and companies that invest in recycling infrastructures for electronics products.
What you can do
Whether the law mandates that manufacturers pay for recycling, or whether consumers pay a recycling fee when making a purchase, consumers ultimately foot the bill. Voluntary recycling programs might help prevent costly legislative mandates. Here are the steps we recommend you take if you decide to recycle an old TV or computer:
Check with retailers. If the equipment still works, or if you think it can be repaired, check with local thrift stores. You may not want that old console dinosaur, but someone else out there will. If you can't find a thrift store willing to take the unit, find out if any local charities might be interested. Some of the sites listed in this report include links to groups that accept donated electronics.
Electronics retailers are also getting into the act. Best Buy sponsors recycling events where you can drop off electronics of all kinds, from TVs to fax machines. Check the Best Buy Web site to see if there is an upcoming event in your neighborhood.
Check for public programs. To see if your town sponsors specific collection days for TVs and other electronics, or if it has a drop-off point for electronics waste, click on the map supplied by the Electronic Industries Alliance. When you buy a new TV, contact the manufacturer to see if it will accept your old set for recycling, recommends Kate Krebs, executive director of the National Recycling Coalition.
Consider a private recycling firm. You can also take your electronic waste directly to a private recycling company. You can find lists of such companies on the Electronic Industries Alliance page (click on your state, then on find reuse and recycle options), as well as at Earth 911. If you go to a private recycler, check the company's credentials. Some disreputable recyclers simply ship waste overseas instead of recycling it, according to Richard Goss, director of environmental affairs for the Electronic Industries Association. Ask the recycler about its practices, and check with local or state environmental agencies to make sure the recycler is legitimate.
Also, see if the recycler supports the Electronics Recycler's Pledge of True Stewardship, recently established by a coalition of environmental groups. Companies that sign this voluntary pledge agree to prevent the export of hazardous computer components to developing countries and promise not to allow electronic waste they handle to be incinerated or disposed of in landfills. You can see a list of recyclers that signed the pledge.
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