Wednesday, September 10, 2008


September 10, 2008

Television’s vast wasteland

Electronics waste pick-ups boom in Lee County


They're picked up individually. A Curtis Mathes here. A Toshiba there. An RCA someplace else.

Televisions of various sizes. Once, they provided entertainment. Now they're thrown together at the Lee County Electronics Recycling facility on Topaz Court in south Fort Myers.

Their lives are over. This is a way station. They'll be wrapped in plastic and then hauled away by truck to facilities out of town where they're destroyed.

In the first six months of this year, according to the Lee County Solid Waste Division, 11,556 televisions have been discarded. That's a pace that could put the yearly total at about 23,000. In 2007, the county tallied 14,166 televisions going through the recycling system. In 2006, the county had 9,442 televisions recycled.

Why the uptick? America is converting to digital television, which must be completed by Feb. 17, 2009.

"We're probably going to be getting a lot of TVs," plant operations manager Bill Newman said.

Although television stations broadcast in analog and digital, after Feb. 17, stations will broadcast in only digital. Analog televisions will work if consumers have a digital-to-analog converter box, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Most of the televisions that go through the county recycling plan are trucked to an American Electronics Recycling plant in Sarasota where they meet crunchy fates.

"We have a shredder," said Julie Kiger, an officer manager at American Electronics. "Then they get shredded up into little pieces."

Everything. The steel. The glass. The plastic.

"It's very loud when they go through," Kiger said. "It's a like a bomb goes off."

Although more televisions are being recycled, the increase isn't quite as dramatic as expected at American Electronics Recycling.

Kiger believes it's because people realize they can still use analog televisions as long as they get a converter box.

On the other hand, the HD conversion can be an impetus for a purchase.

"It might be a good excuse to get a good TV," Kiger said.

The impending HD revolution isn't the only factor in the increased recycling of televisions, said Erich Tscherteu, a solid waste coordinator for Lee County.

"The price of flat screens has been cut in half and a lot of the newer TV shows are being broadcast in HD," Tscherteu said.

A Samsung 40-inch flat screen TV is listed at $1,100 on Best Buy's Web site, for example.

Televisions aren't the only electronic devices going through the Lee County electronics recycling facility.

The county has sent 49 truckloads of electronics this year to recycling facilities. The program started in 2001, when 31,244 pounds were collected. As of July 1, the most recent total available, the county has collected 1,418,699 pounds of electronics in 2008.

"We really didn't think it would take off like that," said

Brigitte Kantor, spokeswoman for the Lee County Solid Waste

Division. "We knew it would be a successful program. We didn't know people had that many electronics. It seems like people have an awful lot of electronics. There must be a television in each room."

There just might be, based on statistics on the Environmental Protection Agency Web site. Americans, according to the EPA, own almost 3 billion electronics products. Americans are often eager to replace old gadgets to snag the latest gizmo.

So, the old ones flow through facilities such as the one on Topaz Court.

Lee County's electronics recycling program began in 2001 with a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection. Back then, there was no facility devoted to electronics recycling. The south Fort Myers facility didn't open until April, Kantor said.

The big jump came after the county began curbside pickups in October 2005, Kantor said. The total electronics picked up jumped more than a million pounds in a year, from 359,404 pounds in 2005 to 1,418,337 pounds in 2006.