Monday, July 6, 2009


June 22, 2009

Digital switch spurs increase in TV recycling


Susan Powers of Nichols owns seven TVs. Not one of them works.

That's what happens when you have eight kids and a big farmhouse, she said.

Some have been broken for a while, some are black and white, and most are smaller than 30 inches. She said that since the digital transition on June 12, all are likely headed for the recycle bin.

Powers is one of many Iowans who are responding to recent Iowa Department of Natural Resources pleas to recycle unwanted or obsolete TVs rather than tossing the sets, which contain high amounts of lead and poisonous heavy metals.

"I thought I would empty a room," Powers said.

Susan Johnson, an environmental specialist with the DNR, said last week she has been so inundated with calls over the past couple weeks about how to recycle TVs that she has temporarily dropped her other responsibilities.

She estimates she has received about 200 calls since the department's newspaper and radio campaign on electronic waste began June 1.

There are more than 100 electronic waste permitted facilities across the state, ranging from city landfills to private enterprise. Eventually, much of this electronic waste is funneled into the four DNR-approved processing centers.

Midwest Recovery in Bondurant, which is one of the DNR's four centers, reported a 50 percent increase in television recycling this year and has already matched 2008's total. Another of the electronic processing centers, the Waste Commission of Scott County, reported a 30 percent increase in the number of TVs recycled, while the other two, Midwest Electronic Recovery of Walford and Phoenix E-Waste Solutions in Marshalltown, have also had increases.

Televisions pose a massive environmental threat if not properly recycled, experts say.

Sets can contain as much as seven to 10 pounds of lead in addition to other poisonous heavy metals that can leach into landfills. Electronic waste made up 40 percent of the lead and 75 percent of the heavy metals found in landfills, according to the DNR.

Some electronic recyclers doubt television recycling is up solely because of the digital transition, but say that now is a good time to upgrade to a higher-quality, lighter and affordable television set.

"If I had to guess, it was a great way for a lot of guys to get their flat screen," said Dave Long, president of Midwest Electronic Recovery.

Since Dec. 22, the Waste Commission of Scott County, which handles some electronic waste from the Metro Waste Authority in Des Moines, reported receiving 5,513 televisions, representing 242,322 pounds, said Erin Robinson, a spokeswoman for the organization.

That's about a 30 percent increase in the pounds of TVs taken to the recyclers from the previous three years. This year, TVs make up about 56 percent of all electronic waste.

"I think a lot of people who were waiting bit the bullet and actually did go out and purchase a new TV," said Kathy Morris, the director of the Waste Commission of Scott County.
Additional Facts
Where to recycle a television

Go to for a list of options.

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