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States: Keep old TVs out of landfills

By Wendy Koch USA Today

Media Center – Press Coverage

States: Keep old TVs out of landfills

USA Today
August 19th 2008
By Wendy Koch

As the switch to digital TV nears, concern about old TVs piling up in landfills has prompted state and local governments to develop recycling programs.

New York City and 11 states have passed laws, including four this year, to set up television recycling programs paid for by manufacturers, according to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, an alliance of non-profit groups that promote responsible recycling. And California has a law that requires people to pay for TV recycling.

On Feb. 17, TV broadcasts will switch from analog signals to digital. The switch, mandated by Congress in 2005, will be the biggest change in TV technology since the leap from black-and- white to color a half-century ago.

To avoid a blank screen, households with analog TVs will need to do one of three things: Subscribe to cable or satellite service, get a converter box or buy a digital TV. About 70 million TVs nationwide could be affected because they rely on antennas to receive free over-the-air signals.

In Illinois, the TV switch helped win support this year for a bill that requires manufacturers to pay for the recycling of TVs and computers, said the bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Susan Garrett. It passed the Legislature last month, and Gov. Rod Blagojevich is expected to sign it, spokesman Lucio Guerrero said.

“Consumers are asking for this,” Garrett said.

In New Jersey, “It was a race” to get legislation passed in time for the digital TV transition, said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat, whose bill takes effect in January. He said recycling is essential because “a generation of TVs … will be discarded.”

West Virginia and Rhode Island passed similar bills this year.

“What we’re seeing is a complete change in consumer patterns” in which people get rid of old TVs rather than move them to a less-used room, said Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition.

In most states, she said, it’s legal to put a TV in the trash even though it contains several pounds of lead. She urges consumers to pick a recycler that doesn’t dump TVs abroad in the landfills of poor countries. A list of “responsible recyclers” appears on her group’s website (computertakeback.com).

Jennifer Bemisderfer, spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association, said she doesn’t expect the digital TV transition to cause a surge in TVs heading to landfills. She said most people who buy new TVs donate, sell or recycle their old ones. Citing a survey this year by her group, she said only 12% of households with analog TVs say they will buy a new digital TV. She said nearly half, 48%, plan to buy a converter box.

The U.S. government is giving away 33 million coupons, worth $40 each, to defray the costs of buying converter boxes, typically $50 to $80. Each household can get two coupons. More than 23 million coupons have been requested but only a third used. They expire after 90 days.

A survey conducted this year by the Consumer Electronics Association indicates only 12% of households with analog TVs say they will buy a new digital TV. About 48% of respondents said they plan to buy a converter box.