Image via smilblick via Flickr CC
We worried about the rise in dumped TVs when the switch to digital in the US occurred back in June. The UK is also switching to digital and figures show a frightening rise in dumped TVs, rising by 70% in the past year, with over half of them being upgradable. But they were dumped instead. As more areas switch to digital over the next two years, including London, just how much more of an impact can we expect, and can citizens be convinced that they don't need to dump their TVs at all?The Guardian reports that the digital switch happened yesterday in the north-west of England. "This year, the council has recycled 50,000 analogue TVs thrown away by households, of which 30,000 could have been upgraded to receive digital TV signals with a simple £20 set-top box."
As in the US, most TVs don't need to be replaced - only a new box is needed. Yet many consumers are upgrading to new TVs anyway. Simon Birch, who is investigating the environmental impact of the digital switchover for Ethical Consumer magazine, blames Digital UK for the crush of discarded TVs, saying it isn't doing a good enough job telling consumers that they don't have to toss their televisions.
The eco-impact of televisions is under debate, though, as the Energy Saving Trust notes that a TV with a built-in digital tuner requires only one power supply and can save £7 and 20kg of carbon each year compared with an equivalent analogue TV combined with a set-top box.
However not factored in is the environmental cost of recycling a television, or worse, seeing it head to landfill, or worst, seeing it head to e-waste dumps in developing nations. In the US, only about 18% of the 23.9 million toxic CRT TVs thrown out in 2008 were recycled. And Sarah Westervelt, a Basel Action Network official, said about 80% will actually be shipped abroad to be "recycled" in China and Africa - and that is a violation of provisions of the Basel treaty that ban the shipment of toxic waste from the rich countries to poor ones. The same problems are to be expected in the UK, where e-waste in landfills is already a significant problem.
Over the long run, it is likely better to have an extra set-top box and not a new TV. It's just a matter of actually telling people this, and encouraging them to keep what isn't broken.
More on Digital Switch Causing e-Waste
Today is Digital TV Switch Day, Don't Turn it Into Toxic E-Waste Day
What Happens To E-Waste Generated By The Shift To High Definition Television?
How Will the Digital Television Transition Impact the Environment?