Toxic TVs: Shoppers should consider manufacturers’ recycling records

Study: Lax recycling programs for toxic televisions endanger public health and the environment

(CA) With the deadline for digital TV conversion nearing, televisions will remain on many gift lists. The good news is The Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC) – a national group of non-profit organizations promoting responsible recycling and green design in the electronics industry ‘ recently released a report card on the TV industry’s recycling programs for discarded televisions.

The bad news is the television industry scored abysmally low on a slew of important measurements. For instance: More than half of the 17 companies ranked scored a failing ‘F’ grade, because they have no recycling program in place. Sony received the highest grade, a B minus, with other companies scoring C’s and D’s.

With only a month to go until the digital TV conversion – which will result in a massive disposal of toxic televisions nationwide – ETBC’s TV Recycling Report Card hopes to help educate consumers regarding the most responsible manufacturers and greenest televisions on the market, put pressure on the TV industry to improve its recycling practices, and encourage public policy makers to take more aggressive regulatory actions.

"We hope that consumers who are shopping for a new TV this holiday season will take the manufacturers’ environmental record into account when they decide what to buy," said Barbara Kyle, National Coordinator of the ETBC. "Consumers can and should use their buying power to push this industry toward greener practices."

The Consumer Federation of California joins the Electronics TakeBack Coalition in their effort to pressure TV companies to create national recycling programs, particularly as next February’s mandatory digital TV conversion approaches. ETBC estimates that tens of millions of old-style TVs, each of which includes 4-8 pounds of toxic metals, will be disposed in the near future. They could end up in our landfills, or be dumped overseas in developing countries, as profiled in a recent 60 Minutes report. The EPA estimates that there are 99 million unused TV’s in storage in the U.S.

The Report’s scores were based on the scope of each company’s recycling program, their commitment to responsible recycling, the volume and visibility of their program, and each company’s level of support for public policy that encourages responsible recycling. Several criteria address the transparency of the programs, including public disclosure about vendors used, and the ultimate destinations of the toxic materials in the products, as well as clear commitments by the companies not to allow any toxic materials to be exported to developing countries.

Currently there is a disturbing lack of transparency about what these recycling programs are actually doing. Many of the grading criteria in the ETBC report is based on where the materials are going and how they are being handled, as a way of evaluating how responsibly they are handling their toxic materials. Companies who are doing this right should be fully transparent about their vendors, their standards, and the ultimate destinations for these materials. Such transparency currently does not exist, giving concerns to consumer and health groups alike.

‘Some progress has been made, but there are a woefully inadequate number of locations to allow for easy and convenient TV recycling for most consumers,’ said Richard Holober, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of California (CFC). "To effectively address the every increasing amount of toxins in our air, water, and ground, we need a lot more collection sites, increased recycler transparency, and stricter and enforceable regulations that protect both the public health and the environment.’

For more information, go to The Electronics TakeBack Coalition at The website also features a re-printable comprehensive Consumer Guide to Recycling Your Old TV, with everything the consumer needs to know for the digital conversion in February.