Tossing the old TV: Surprisingly hard to do in a non-toxic way
Do you have an old TV you want to recycle? Despitelegislationaimed at keeping toxic materials out of landfills, you might have a hard time doing so.
Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund released reports last month showing that recycling of electronics has actually declined in Texas in recent years — manufacturers recycled two million fewer pounds of toxic e-waste in 2011 than the previous year — and that city and county governments continue to struggle with educating the public about e-waste recycling programs.
The television recycling law that went into effect Sept. 1, 2011 requires retailers to offer takeback recycling programs in order to sell their products in Texas. But TCEF says we’re a long way from convenient, responsible recycling.
For one thing, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality failed to adequately ensure that companies won’t rely on "sham recyclers," companies that export and dump old electronics on developing nations, said Zac Trahan, program director for TCEF. Additionally, the agency relies on mail-back programs that few Texans are likely to use.
“When the computer takeback law passed in 2007, manufacturers used a mail-back default option in order to meet the requirements,” says TCEF staff director Jeffrey Jacoby.
“But we have seen that Texans aren’t using that option. With the television takeback law, we’re trying to ensure that the post office, FedEx or UPS is not considered a viable dropoff option under the convenience terms of the law. Who is going to box up their heavy old TV, go to the manufacturers web site and print off a mailing label, schlep it down to the post office, wait in line and give it to the postal clerk, who has no knowledge of the issues? Imagine the scenario and you can see that it isn't a feasible option.”
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality failed to adequately ensure that companies won’t rely on "sham recyclers," companies that export and dump old electronics on developing nations
“What they’re banking on, to be honest, is that people just won’t use it,” Jacoby adds. “But the manufacturer is off the hook, because according to the rules, that option is ‘convenient.’
TCEQ media relations manager Terry Clawson counters that consumers already have a number of options for recycling televisions. Best Buy stores take just about any TV to recycle, as does the Electronic Manufacturers Reycling Management Company (MRM), which collects at Goodwill and some other locations. WalMart collects Samsung brands, and that manufacturer also takes back its televisions (although there are no Samsung drop-off locations in Austin). Sony takes back its televisions at Earth Protection Services in Round Rock.
Clawson also says that "Texans have many other opportunities to recycle their computer equipment and other electronics outside — such as at collection events coordinated by municipalities, local nonprofit groups, private recyclers or community-oriented businesses — and the number of opportunities continues to increase.”
In Austin, individuals can also recycle electronics at Electronic Recycling and Trading Inc.
Tossing your TV in the trash certainly isn't a good option. A typical television contains at least four pounds of lead, and flat panel LCDs contain mercury — both extremely toxic to humans. Electronics also contain brominated flame retardants, similar in structure to banned PCBs. EPA studies have shown that almost all landfills leak at some point, so electronics in landfills present a risk of lead, mercury and other chemicals leaching into groundwater.
TCEF is calling on WalMart to help make convenient recycling a reality. “WalMart has locations in every corner of Texas and would be the most convenient option for the most people,” says Jacoby. “We’re asking WalMart to partner with manufacturers to offer e-waste recycling, like Best Buy already does.”
Jacoby says TCEF has heard from WalMart’s director of sustainability, but the company has not committed to any takeback program yet. “Every day they wait is another day Texans don’t have an option for responsibly recycling televisions,” he adds. WalMart did not respond to a request for comment.
The best solution, Jacoby says, would be to make it as easy to recycle a television or computer as it is to purchase one. “You could just take one back wherever you can buy a new one. It’s extremely easy to buy these items; we need to make it just as easy to recycle the old ones.”