US digital conversion may lead to toxic TV exports

12 Jun 2009

As the conversion to digital television began in the US this week, one concern that has cropped up is that old CRT television sets containing toxic materials may end up for sale in developing countries.

According to US toxic-waste watchdog agency, the Basel Action Network (BAN), due to a lack of legislation about 80pc of companies calling themselves ‘recyclers’ in North America are at liberty to export consumers’ TVs to countries such as China, India, or Nigeria.

These older cathode ray tube (CRT) television sets contain varying levels of toxic leaded glass, cadmium and brominated flame retardants that will be exposed as the TVs are stripped for parts, leaking into the environment and being burned or dumped with other electronic waste.

“There are few regulations in place and the ones that do exist are easily circumvented. So many of these so-called recyclers take your TV or computer for free, or pocket your environmental fee, and then just turn around and ship your old TV to China or Vietnam,” said Sarah Westervelt e-Stewardship Director at BAN.

“There, our old entertainment devices end up causing misery and disease, and ultimately contaminate the entire planet, distributing lead, mercury and cadmium into the ecosphere – not a good plan for anyone, anywhere.”

BAN says that a conservative estimate by some US recyclers is that one in four households will get rid of their TV in 2009 as a direct result of the digital switchover.

This means that 27 million televisions, each containing, on average, 5 lbs of lead, would be disposed of or recycled, with 80pc of this making its way into developing countries, the organisation claims.

By Marie Boran