Out With the Old...Without Guilt?
Electronics “take-back” programs are such a godsend. You clean out your shelves, closet, or garage of unwanted devices with dangling cords, and as an extra reward you get to replace your old stereo or television with the latest electronic technology, guiltlessly. Well, not so fast.
A recent New York Times article points out that “as recently as a few years ago, broken monitors and televisions…were being recycled profitably. The big, glassy funnels inside the machine -- known as cathode ray tubes, or CRTs -- were melted down and turned into new ones. But flat-screen technology has made those monitors and televisions obsolete, decimating the demand for the recycled tube glass used in them and creating what industry experts call a ‘glass tsunami’ as stockpiles of the useless material accumulate across the country.” The economics have been turned upside-down: Recyclers were once paid $200 a ton to provide glass for use in new products; today, those recyclers must pay more than $200 a ton to get rid of the stuff.
The good news is that it’s still profitable for recyclers to process computers, cellphones, and printers because they contain precious metals. As for your old tube TV or computer monitor gathering dust in the basement? Don’t resort to tossing it in the trash, ever. Virtually anything is better than adding toxic waste to a landfill. Hey, plug it in and maybe you can still use it after all. But if you do recycle it through a local “take back” program, contact them to confirm that the devices are responsibly recycled. (This holds true for “take back” programs offered by specific electronics manufacturers too.) Good resources for finding recyclers include e-Stewards.org and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition.
Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”