About 37 million brand-new televisions were shipped to the U.S. in 2012. When those machines made their way into people’s homes, they likely displaced an older or non-working set. What happens to all those obsolete televisions? Many of them find their way into the trash, which is a real shame. Televisions are tough to recycle. They contain lots of materials that can harm human health, which makes them expensive to take apart. In some cases, they are quite bulky, making them difficult to move around. In 2013, Baltimore’s Public Works Department began refusing televisions at its electronics recycling center and asked the public to take them to disposal facilities instead. This is probably a growing trend. Televisions can be recycled if you get them into the hands of the right vendor. Unless your local government sponsors an electronics recycling program, or the company that sells you a new television will take your old one for free, expect to pay a fee to get rid of it.
Common materials found in televisionsTelevisions fall into two main categories: those with cathode ray tubes and those without. The CRT is the large, pyramid-shaped contraption attached to the screen that gives the monitor its bulk. The glass in the CRT contains up to 8 pounds of lead, a layer of cadmium-based phosphorous and other dangerous heavy metals. While it is in one piece, a CRT poses no threat to human health. But, if the glass breaks it can release the lead and other materials into the air. The danger and complexity required in processing CRTs makes them difficult and expensive to recycle. Flat-screen televisions are not much better. Older models with LCD lights in the screens can contain up to 20 tubes filled with mercury. The screens are harder to take apart, especially since workers have to worry about rupturing those tubes. Other materials in televisions include plastic, wood (from large console televisions), copper wiring and circuit boards.
Why it is important to recycle televisionsLike any other electronic device, there are a host of reasons not to toss your television in a dumpster:
- It is illegal in the 25 states that have passed e-waste laws, including Texas, Vermont, Indiana, Missouri and Washington.
- As televisions are run over by crushing equipment in a landfill, or burned in an incinerator, they release those heavy metals that can seriously affect human health.
- As rain falls on a landfill, it can wash away toxic chemicals like the brominated fire retardants in the TV’s plastic.
- Televisions contain high-value materials such as gold and platinum that should be put back to use, not buried in the ground or put up a chimney.