The switch to digital TV has caused more than a few headaches in its pursuit of sharper, more capable broadcast television. One that's often overlooked is the huge pile of old tube sets trashed in its wake. Some call digital TV the largest government-mandated obsolescence program ever. Many of those old sets will end up in landfills. But a tube TV can have several pounds of lead and other toxic materials that can leach into groundwater, which is a particular threat to the drinking-water wells that often surround rural landfills.
Some states and municipalities now bar TVs and other electronics from landfills. Feeling the heat from governments and consumers, manufacturers and retailers are expanding their efforts to recycle old PCs, music players and televisions. With the transition to digital TV peaking this spring, this week's Earth Day is a good time to review the expanding options for those who want to responsibly dispose of old televisions:
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Sony. The electronics company launched the first nationwide recycling program in 2007 that has expanded to more than 200 locations. The sites are managed by Waste Management, a national disposal and recycling firm. Customers can drop off Sony sets of any size for no charge. Most of the sites also accept other Sony electronics for free, and will accept competitor brands for a small fee. With new purchases delivered from its stores or Website, Sony also can remove an old set. While its network is perhaps the largest for accepting TVs, sites are limited to metropolitan areas. Even then, consumers can expect to drive across the city to find the one or two locations that are available. Sony offers an online locator service to help find drop off sites.
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LG. Another electronics maker that has signed up with Waste Management to accept returns of its TVs at no cost to consumers. The service recently went nationwide. The program covers LG, Zenith and Goldstar brands of TVs, monitors and other electronics. Consumers can drop off as many as five items a day at no charge. Many of the sites also accept other brands for a small fee. In a sign of the political pressure, LG and Waste Management told a press conference at the Democratic National Convention last year that their goal was to have an electronics recycling center within 20 miles of 95 percent of the nation's congressional districts. LG and Waste Management offer a spreadsheet of available sites.
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Panasonic, Sharp and Toshiba. The three companies formed their own company to manage electronic waste collection and disposal, Electronic Manufacturers Recycling Management Consumers can drop off TVs and other electronics from the three companies at no cost at sites across the country, which often accept other brands for a fee. The partners are also signing up other manufacturers to their system for free dropoffs, but coverage for those brands appears limited so far. Find a location at the consortium's Website.
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Samsung. More than 150 locations nationwide now accept Samsung TVs and other electronics for free. The locations also accept the Durabrand and Ilo TVs sold by Wal-Mart for free. Most locations will also accept other brands for a fee. Samsung works with four regional companies that collect and dispose of the electronic waste, whose locations are available at Samsung's Website.
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Best Buy. Any U.S. store will accept TVs up to 32 inches across for recycling, as well as other electronic gear. Best Buy will charge $10 for each TV or monitor, but consumers get a $10 gift card for Best Buy purchases. Consumers can recycle up to two electronic devices a day. Stores won't accept console televisions or sets larger than 32 inches, but might haul them away for free when a new TV is delivered from a Best Buy store. Best Buy can also arrange to pick up and recyle TVs from homes for a fee of $130.
Earth911. If all the above fail to find a free place to recycle a TV, you can check the Earth911 site for a nearby recycling location. Some such as Goodwill stores will accept only working sets and some will take any TV for free, but most will charge a small fee of $10 to $20 to accept a non-working model.