Where TVs go to die

Online shopping’s bargain prices and 24-hour access have seen couriers delivering electronic goods to Australian homes at a record rate but in the next few months they may be summoned to pick up unwanted goods, too.

A free national recycling scheme for old televisions and computers begins in July, resurrecting bulky old CRT sets and dusty PCs from the junk pile.

DHL Supply Chain is the first company to be approved for the e-waste collection service, which will prevent electronic scrap from being sent to landfill.

The Product Stewardship Act, the federal law passed last year to make computer and TV manufacturers responsible for tech waste, aims to boost Australia’s tech-recycling rate from 17 per cent to 30 per cent by 2012-13 and, in the long term, to 80 per cent in the next decade.

The government scheme is similar to other voluntary industry projects to protect the environment, including MobileMuster, which recycles mobile phones, and Close the Loop, which reuses toner and inkjet cartridges.

The scheme will introduce service points for free e-waste collection for households and small business to confront the growing problem of discarded TVs and computers, which the government estimates could reach 44 million unwanted units by 2028.

Sending dead tech to landfill isn’t just a waste of resources, it can lead to dangerous toxins such as lead, bromine and mercury leaking into the ground and water table, says parliamentary secretary for sustainability, South Australian senator Don Farrell.

”Recycling old televisions and computers not only reduces the risk of pollution, it resurrects the useful and valuable components inside, like gold, copper, aluminium and glass,” he says.

While it won’t result in an initial cost to the consumer, the recycling of products from USB sticks to TVs is estimated to add $1.80 to each item.

Given the declining prices of consumer technology, any price hikes seem insignificant.

Big brands including Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Canon and Lenovo have committed to fund and operate the e-waste recycling service, which will disassemble and reprocess redundant tech goods.

Panasonic Australia believes the initiative will also help it develop greener products to minimise future waste. Panasonic Australia managing director Steve Rust says the company’s dedicated recycling plant in Japan has already helped design engineers reduce the number of components in TVs and do away with some hazardous materials.

”Some of our raw materials have changed so that more of the end-of-life product can be used, which helps us build better, more efficient products,” Rust says.

Recycling industry body ANZRP (Australia and New Zealand Recycling Platform) will help waste-management companies and councils address the safety and environmental issues when handling TV and computer waste.

The scheme aims to have shared collection facilities by city and region, which might include designated kerbside collection days.

Rust says the continuing price erosion on consumer electronics and internet-enabled TV is part of the trend to upgrade, with the TV prices an average 40 per cent less than two years ago.

”Every year, 3 million TVs are entering the [Australian] market and we only have 8 million homes, so Australians really love their technology,” he says.

”We’re finding now that some consumers are already throwing away first-generation flatscreens.”

So, finally, there’s an answer to the question: where do cathode ray tubes go to die? Nowhere; they just switch product channels - tech reincarnation, if you like, where parts of your chunky old box might be reborn in a slick new tablet. That is, until the next must-have version makes the top of the fanboy list and kicks it to the kerb.

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