S&T student addresses digital dilemma: What to do with outdated TVs?

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On February 10, 2009

Oscar Hernandez, a senior in civil engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, is concerned about the environmental impact of discarding outdated televisions as the nation prepares to switch to digital broadcasting.

“I had an old television set sitting in my garage,” Hernandez admitted. “I just left it there because I didn’t know how to dispose of it. I want to educate people so that they will know the proper way to dispose of their old televisions.”

Knowing the proper way to dispose of old TV sets is about to become more important. This February, television stations are starting to switch over to digital broadcasting signals. The transition will allow for higher sound and picture quality, additional channels, and will make old cathode-ray tube televisions (CRTs) that run on analog signals obsolete without modifications.

Hernandez recently conducted a service learning project for a Solid Waste Management class. He researched the issue and produced a brochure to educate the community on the possible impact of the digital transition.

Those looking to dispose of old TV sets should take them to recycling companies that abide by Missouri electronic recycling standards, Hernandez says. These companies protect the environment through responsible end-of-life management.

“Most people who recycle their TVs have no idea how the TV will be recycled,” says Hernandez, who is from Richland, Mo. “Some recycling companies ship electronic waste to developing nations where there is no regulation on how to process CRTs.”

Broken CRTs are classified as hazardous waste by the federal government, and their transport is regulated. However, 86 percent of old televisions still end up in a landfill.

Consumer electronics contain encased components that are safe for daily use but can be toxic when exposed to the environment. Old television sets contain up to eight pounds of lead, as well as cadmium, a known carcinogen, mercury and a variety of other known toxic compounds.

The Environmental Protection Agency conservatively estimates that more than 23 million cathode-ray tube televisions will enter the waste stream this year.

Televisions connected to cable or receiving satellite signals will not be affected by the digital transition. However, at least 70 million television sets will need digital signal converters, according to a study of the Consumer Federation of America.

Although the government is issuing two $40 coupons for digital converter boxes per household, some families may feel that this is the perfect time to upgrade to a newer television.

If people don’t want to convert their old televisions or recycle them, Hernandez says the CRT sets can still be used exclusively for electronics such as DVD players and game systems.

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On February 10, 2009. Posted in Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, News, Top Headlines