young couple looking at new flat-screen TVs in store

You’re ready to spring for a brand-new television, and now you’re faced with a problem. What do you do with your old LED or plasma TV?

If it still works, the best option is to pass it along to someone who can use it. But if it is beyond repair, sending that giant TV to the landfill is not a good idea. It’s filled with chemicals and heavy metals that can contaminate soil and water. Instead, recycling that old television is the right path to take.

Let’s take a peek at some avenues for responsibly recycling your television. Read on to find out which option is best for you.

The Trouble with Trashing TVs

Worldwide, we humans generate over 50 million tons of e-waste every year. The UN Environment Program reports that only 20% of that waste is formally recycled. Unrecycled e-waste usually ends up in landfills or incinerators. Sometimes it ends up in developing countries that lack the facilities to handle these materials safely, endangering workers and the environment.

According to All Green Recycling, plasma TVs are one of the most frequently disposed consumer electronics items. Plasma and LED TVs contain heavy metals. Metals such as cadmium, mercury, lead, and copper present health risks to both humans and the environment.

In addition to the health risks, when we throw an old TV in the trash, we waste natural resources. Televisions house some valuable materials. It’s estimated that one ton of e-waste contains 100 times more gold than one ton of gold ore. (Anyone else wonder why we continue mining for gold if it’s just sitting in our landfills?)

Obstacles to Recycling TVs

We wish we could say that you can put your television out with your curbside recycling and call it a day. It’s not that simple.

Several obstacles make recycling LED and plasma televisions difficult:

  • Availability of electronic recycling facilities
  • Health and safety issues of e-waste recycling
  • Cost of recycling televisions
  • Transporting televisions/accessibility for consumers

Despite e-waste legislation in half of the United States, consumers still have to do some leg work to get past these obstacles. Some retailers and manufacturers offer solutions that make it easier, thanks, in part, to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA Challenge to Electronics Manufacturers and Retailers

Back in 2012, the EPA issued a challenge to electronics manufacturers, brand owners, and retailers. The Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Electronics Challenge encouraged these entities to:

  • Increase their rates of recovering used electronics from consumers, businesses, and their own companies.
  • Send 100% of their used electronics to third-party certified e-waste recyclers.
  • Share their recycling data with the public.

Many companies took up the challenge. The EPA website lists companies that have developed e-waste recycling programs.

Finding a Place That Accepts Plasma and LED TVs

Some retailers will take your old TV for recycling when you purchase a new one, though there is often a fee. For example, Best Buy charges $29.99 for this service. Samsung will accept any brand of TV for trade-in when you purchase a new Samsung TV. Some manufacturers, such as Vizio, support permanent drop-off locations through retailers or nonprofit organizations.

Check with individual companies to see what their policy is for accepting e-waste. Many of the companies listed on the EPA website accept even competitors’ electronic products for free. However, there is almost always a fee for televisions, whether they’re older models or newer plasma and LED models.

Do Curbside Recyclers Take Plasma or LED TV?

Curbside recycling programs, in most cases, accept paper, plastics, metals, and glass, but not electronics. Electronics recycling requires specialized equipment and safety precautions that curbside recyclers just don’t have.

Some curbside recyclers or municipalities may accept your TV for a fee. They will pick up and send your TV to an electronics recycler. Expect to pay somewhere between $25 and $40 depending on the size of your television.

Another option is to wait for an e-recycling event nearby. These are often hosted by local departments of public works, boards of health, or as fundraisers for community organizations.

Work With E-cyclers That Ethically Recycle Electronics

As if the whole process isn’t difficult enough, we do have a word of caution when attempting to have your television recycled properly.

Much of the e-waste in the U.S (and other developed countries) gets exported to developing countries. There, e-waste recycling workers are exposed to unsafe materials and practices that negatively affect their health. Unsafe recycling practices impact the local environment as well.

Fortunately, you can find reputable electronics recycling facilities by looking for one of two certifications. The EPA recommends that e-waste recyclers get certified through the Responsible Recycling (R2) Standard for Electronics Recyclers or the e-stewards standard. E-waste recyclers with these certifications commit to refurbishing electronics, if possible, and to using methods that safely and efficiently recycle electronic components for reuse.

Recycling E-waste Isn’t Easy, But It’s Worth the Effort

It’s not a simple task to recycle your old plasma or LED TV responsibly. But, when you care about environmental and human health and not wasting resources, it’s an easy decision.

By Mary McDonald

Mary McDonald is a freelance writer based in Central Massachusetts. After working as a teacher for many years, she now writes about mental health, wellness, and the environment. You can find her on LinkedIn.