The Television Dilemma


Power to the Peeples is an exclusive Earth911 series written by Bob Peeples, our resident chemical engineer and Program Manager of Earth911’s sister site Beaches911. Bob combines his extensive knowledge of the environment and how things work with an off-the-cuff sense of humor.

You’ve seen the commercials, read the hype and maybe even investigated coupons for converter boxes. That’s right, the digital switch is coming (either this month or in June), for those who haven’t already switched already.

In honor of Groundhog Day, I think it’s time we replace all the digital switch preparation talk we’ve been experiencing over and over with information you may not have heard about switching to digital TV. For example:

  • No matter if the digital switch "spring" comes this month or June, consumers may have a bigger problem on their hands when it comes to recycling TVs. -

    No matter if the digital switch 'spring' comes this month or in June, consumers may have a bigger problem on their hands when it comes to recycling TVs. -

    The first thing that we need to notice is that we’ve already spent the originally budgeted $1.3 billion earmarked for converter box coupons, and now the digital switch delay has been rejected by the House, but could be up for another vote. If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, we may just be in for another four months of analog TV.

  • Not everyone will benefit from the digital converter box. Many people only receive UHF (those channels higher than 13), and will therefore need a different antenna.
  • The “Digital Transition Content Security Act” was passed to open bandwidth for public service needs, yet the FCC has earned more than $20 billion on sales of that bandwidth to private companies such as cellular telephone providers.

Nobody seems to be as worried about the increased quality of transmission as the FCC. Think of it this way: if I can only afford to own a washer/dryer and a TV, should improved picture quality be on my list of priorities?

The Disposal Conundrum

So let’s say you can’t get a converter box and decide to spring for a new television. Unless you’re turning the old set into an aquarium, you’re now in need of a television recycler.

The irony here is that cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors are one of the most difficult electronic devices to recycle, as each contains up to eight pounds of lead in the tube. Liquid crystal display (LCD) TVs do not have this problem, but you probably also won’t find LCD screens without a digital tuner.

To take it one step further, more than 12 percent of Earth911’s listings for televisions have withdrawn this recycling service as of this writing. Simply put, many recyclers choose to not deal with them.

One primary example is Goodwill, where stores will frequently not accept donated CRT screens anymore, since the market for their resale is gone. Though some national take-back programs have increased in the past few weeks, there are limitations based on size and electronic type – and some programs charge a fee to recycle larger TVs.

In 50 years, we’ll all be telling our grandkids about the time before digital television when it was impossible with rabbit ears to tell the difference between Droopy and Snoopy. But for now, there are no guarantees the digital switch will be as painless as the cable companies have been saying.

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