The (Ana)Log Jam

Don’t worry. We won’t drown in old TVs.

They’re at it again. The fearmongers are all in a tizzy over the federally mandated switch from analog transmission of television broadcasts to digital on February 17, 2009. This, in essence, renders analog TVs obsolete, as they are incapable of displaying the digital signal. If you want to continue to watch programs on your analog TV, you will need to buy a converter box, or subscribe to a cable or other pay service. If you don’t, your analog TV will be as useful as yesterday’s news program. Many people will use this as an opportunity to upgrade to a digital TV. The fearmongers fret that we will be buried under a deluge of millions of abandoned analog sets.

Estimates vary on the number of analog TVs that might be tossed. A Feb. 2008 Nielsen study (they’re the folks who have tracked our viewing habits for decades so they probably know what they are talking about) estimated that 13 million households are analog only and another 6 million have at least one analog set. The government is helping the transition with free coupons that knock $40 off the cost of a converter box.

Clearly, a lot of old TVs will be headed for the curb. But will we immediately throw away all of those dead analog TVs? Not necessarily.

Many of us hang on to our stuff long after it has lost any useful value. Magazines, old computers, nearly empty paint cans — you name it. If we have a basement or attic, we hold on to things long after we need them. I only recently recycled a MS-DOS computer that had no use other than taking up space. And, I still have an old-style record player in my attic. I also have 100 or 200 vinyl records that I just can’t bear to part with even though I haven’t played any of them in at least t wo decades. I’m not unique in my ability to hold on to things.

In fact, a study released in early April by the Consumer Electronics Association (their members include companies t hat ma ke a nd sel l telev ision set s), reported that less than 15 million analog TVs will be “removed” from homes by the end of 2010. Almost all of them will be sold, donated or recycled.

We should take steps to ensure that analog TVs a recycled when t hey finally do hit the curb. But let’s remember that in spite of all the talk about “toxic trash,” we do not face an environmental crisis. The good news is that EPA officials testified before a Congressional committee that the neutral pH in landfills and leachate collection systems keep contaminants in landfilled electronics products from harming the environment.

The real worry for the fearmongers should be that recycling is an imperfect cure if these products are exported to third world recyclers. Unfortunately, many of t hem operate under conditions that show complete indifference to worker health and safety.

When you finally do pitch that analog TV, be sure you take it to a reputable recycler who can guarantee that it will be safely managed. Then, enjoy your digital TV without guilt.

Opinions in this column do not necessarily ref lect the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at: [email protected].