The digital TV switch causes 70% rise in e-waste

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

There was serious worry and concern as regards to a rise in dumped television sets when the switch to digital occurred back in June 2009 in the US.

In Britain, which is also switching to digital, but more slowly and area by area, figures show a frightening rise in dumped TVs, rising by 70% in the past year, with over half of them being upgradable to digital reception. Instead, however, they have been dumped. And while some of them have gone to the recycling centers others have simply been dumped in the countryside and parks.

Problem I keep finding with people in the UK is that they do not love their stuff enough and they just upgrade by buying new rather than looking into whether something can be upgraded, and that, maybe, cheaper. Definitely cheaper, though, as far as the environment is concerned.

As more areas switch to digital over the next two years, including London, just how much more of an impact can we expect? A tremendous one for people, of that we can be sure, as we have seen from where it has happened already, will simply get rid of the old sets and buy new. Also, as many seem to see it, a good excuse to get the latest, bigger, TV.

Can citizens not be convinced that they don't need to dump their TVs at all? Personally, I must say that I very much doubt this. Some maybe but the great majority of them have the mindset as mentioned above, namely that they will use this opportunity to rid themselves of older TVs in favor of buying newer bigger ones. Why beats me.

This year, a council in the north-west of England, in an area where just recently the analog signal has been switched off, has recycled 50,000 analogue TVs thrown away by households, of which 30,000 could have been upgraded to receive digital TV signals with a simple £20 set-top box.

But this, as I would say, should not surprise us. The people do not want to use a set-top box with which to upgrade their existing TV; they want new digital TVs instead. It is a “keeping up with the Jones'” and such.

Most TVs in Britain and in the USA don't need to be replaced – all theyy need is a set-top box in order to receive the digital signals and such boxes are cheap – in the UK at least. Still many consumers are upgrading to new TV sets anyway; to sets that are digital TVs rather than TVs needing a box on the top.

Simon Birch, who is investigating the environmental impact of the digital switchover for Ethical Consumer magazine, blames Digital UK for the crush of discarded TVs, saying it isn't doing a good enough job telling consumers that they don't have to toss their televisions.

Personally I think Digital UK is not even making an effort to tell the people that they can upgrade their existing TVs with set-top boxes and retailers obvi0usly are also not trying to push boxes but brand-new TV sets.

The eco-impact of televisions is under debate, though, as the Energy Saving Trust notes that a TV with a built-in digital tuner requires only one power supply and can save £7 and 20kg of carbon each year compared with an equivalent analogue TV combined with a set-top box.

And while this may – or may not be so - not factored in in this is the environmental cost of recycling a television, or worse, seeing it head to landfill, or worst, seeing it head to e-waste dumps, yes, dumps, for most of it is being dumped there in holes in the ground and not recycled - in Third World nations.

Over the long run, it is likely better to have an extra set-top box and not a new TV. It's just a matter of actually telling people this, and encouraging them to keep what isn't broken.

If it ain't broke don't fix it, and this also applies here. If the TVs can be upgraded by the simple addition of a set-top box then that is the way to go, regardless of a little more energy consumption (and I must say that I doubt that that will have such and effect as mentioned by the Energy Saving Trust.

I do not think that we are seeing the true picture here, namely the bosses of some industries sitting there rubbing their grubby little hands in glee that the sales of new digital TVs are up.

Britain also is changing – slowly – its radio (wireless, as they call it here still at times) signals from analog on the likes of Medium Wave and FM over to DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) and here, alas, are no set-top (converters) available that can turn a good old perfectly working analog radio into one that can receive DAB signals.

So, I am therefore confident that we will see, in due course, lots and lots of “old” style radios going to the dumps as well. Many of those, on the other hand, could be used in Third World countries which do still use AM, FM and even SW broadcasts and are, not as yet, changing to digital.

© 2009