What to do with the old TVs?

Landfills choked with old TVs and the dangers they bring to the environment.

While the federal government foresaw the public outcry with having to buy a converter box in order to watch digital TV by offering a $40 coupon, it has been shortsighted on another front.

There is a possibility that many people with analog TVs will forgo buying the converter box and instead upgrade to a new TV with a built-in digital tuner.

Then what happens to all those old TVs?

"No one really has a grasp on the number of (analog) TVs that are out there," said Rod Fletcher, environmental manager for the city of Urbana. "What I find interesting is at the federal level there has been no thought or communication on how to legislate this.

"I'm surprised there are no plans or other options being made available."

A big problem is that no local entity, public or private, recycles televisions. And TVs contain toxic metals, including lead, arsenic, beryllium and mercury, along with hazardous chemicals used as flame retardants in the plastic housing.

According to Consumer Reports magazine, TV sets contain anywhere from 4 to 8 pounds of lead on average – not the sort of thing you want in a landfill.

"I think it's going to be a big problem. No one takes them and they have virtually no value," said Steve Suderman, owner of Good Vibes in Champaign. "We will do our level best to find homes for them.

"For the digital TVs we sell, we'll offer to take the old set. If the set is functional, we'll try to find a good home for it. If not, it will go in the Dumpster."

Cindy Eaglen of Illini Recycling of Champaign said garbage haulers will pick up TVs, but at an additional cost and as an extra pick-up for large models.

"With recycling, you have to be dealing in quantities of something," she added. "This might be a good opportunity for the cities and private industry to team up for a program or special event."

Fletcher, who is also president of the Illinois Recycling Association, hopes most people will buy the converter boxes and keep their old TV sets around for a while.

"We're concerned, just by the sheer potential volume that may arise and affect the (recycling) markets," he said. "Recycling is a market-driven business. If the number of TV sets were released over time, the recycling industry could handle that. If all those TVs are thrown out at once, then it will flood the market.

"One option is for owners to hold onto those old TVs for another year or so. It may not be useful, but at least it could be recycled. I hope we can recycle as many as we possibly can."

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