Recycling Old TVs Critical to Health, Environment

BY Adam Wasch, Energy Outreach Consultant for CCHRC and UAF CES
Energy Focus: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner March 26th, 2009, Section A3

For a moment in time, the innards of an old-fashioned television and a flower bouquet look similar when blown up. This odd fact occurred to me when looking at the artwork of a contemporary artist named Ori Gersht, who meticulously arranged bouquets based upon a series of 19th Century French paintings, froze them in liquid nitrogen, and photographed them in the act of blowing up. I blew up a television once, so I know how the two compare.

The colored wires, silver castings, and lead-glazed glass in cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions are floral in their likeness, but unlike flowers are patently bad for the environment. And many CRTs might as well be blown up if they’re headed for the dump where their toxic contents and metals can leach into nearby water sources. The ongoing conversion to digital TVs (despite the availability of digital converter boxes) is hastening this process. In 2008 alone, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated Americans disposed of some 24 million tube TVs, amounting to about 711,000 tons of electronic waste.

Electronic waste is often more troublesome than other kinds because of the difficulty and expense of extracting recyclable contents from other non-reusable parts. The contents are hazardous, too. One CRT can contain several pounds of lead. Mercury, cadmium, copper, lithium, flame-retardant brominates, and phosphorus may also be present. If you bring your old tube television or CRT computer monitor to the transfer station, it’s going straight to the Fairbanks landfill. Our landfill already receives an average of more than 300 tons of refuse a day – it doesn’t need your television. Plus, the metals from televisions can leach through the landfill, ultimately finding their way to the Chena River.

How can you avoid adding to the problem? Locally, Interior Alaska Green Star is your best bet. They have contracted with a large e-waste recycler in Seattle, which has assured Green Star that none of their e-waste will end up exported to developing countries where disposal practices can be sketchy. Dubbed the “effluent of the affluent,” e-waste can find its way to countries where few if any controls exist regarding its disposal or, worse, people become dangerously ill from unsafe material handling. Child laborers have been known to smelt lead for reuse in batteries or other commodities.

“Caution must be made in selecting recyclers that can certify that their practices ensure worker safety and the prevention of toxic releases to the environment,” according to Green Star. “Some merely export discarded products to developing countries, where labor costs are lower and environmental regulations are often lax or not enforced, resulting in major pollution and health problems in other communities.”

Green Star will hold a “Recycling Round-Up” on May 15 and 16 at the Tanana Fairgrounds in Fairbanks. It’s well worth paying a small recycling fee of $10 to $20 to know that your old TV will be handled responsibly. The fee simply covers the transportation cost to Seattle and the recycler’s overhead costs to reclaim the televisions’ guts. Plastics, glass, steel, gold, lead, mercury, cadmium and fire retardants can all be recaptured for reuse with some careful effort. Plus, reusing these materials reduces the need for new metal production and the accompanying pollution.

Call Green Star at 452-4152 or visit their website.

Adam Wasch promotes energy awareness for the Cooperative Extension Service (CES) and the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). For questions or comments please contact CCHRC at (907) 457-3454


  1. Interior Alaska Green Star will also be hosting a Television recycling event on April 11th in the WalMart parking lot.

  2. For those who may be interested in learning more – the company that Green Star partners with for recycling electronics is Total Reclaim, Inc:

    Also, check out the Basel Action Network website – this organization certifies electronics recyclers who do so responsibly:

    “BAN works to prevent the globalization of the toxic chemical crisis. We work in opposition to toxic trade in toxic wastes, toxic products and toxic technologies, that are exported from rich to poorer countries. Alternatively, we work to ensure national self-sufficiency in waste management through clean production and toxics use reductions”

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