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On Earth Day, what to do with your old TV

Consumer Reports News: April 22, 2010 11:20 AM

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What should you do with your old TV? That's an important question, especially on Earth Day, since so many consumers are abandoning old tube TVs in favor of larger, sleeker flat-panel models or even stepping up from a small LCD to a bigger screen.

Dumping it in a landfill isn't the answer. Even though newer TVs contain less toxic material than older sets—LCD TVs with LED backlights and plasma sets, for example, are mercury-free—it's still important to dispose of them properly. LCD TVs with conventional fluorescent lamps, for example, have small amounts of mercury, and the phosphors of older direct-view TVs are coated with cadmium. And TVs of all types contain plastics that can leach hazardous chemicals should they wind up in a landfill.

If you’d like to do your part, here’s a quick Earth Day guide highlighting a number of green ways to get an old TV out of your house:

Fix it
With TVs continuing to get cheaper every year, it may seem as if repairing a broken older TV just isn’t worth the effort or money. But sometimes, depending on the type and age of the TV, repairing an item can make sense, and it does help keep gear out of a landfill. If your TV's warranty is up, consider factory or authorized service, but don't dismiss independents. According to Consumer Reports surveys, they satisfied our readers about the same. Independents can be good for off-warranty work, especially if the repair is relatively easy and doesn't involve proprietary parts from the manufacturer. Look for servicers who will credit the cost of the estimate against the price of the repair. Also, it’s easier to sell a working TV should you decide to dispose of it at a later date.

Donate it
If your TV is still in working condition, someone else may be able to use it. Check with friends and other family members to see if they can give an older TV a home; if not, consider donating the TV to a thrift store or charity, where older products can often be put to good use. Just be aware that some charities may no longer accept analog TVs now that all broadcasts are digital, so contact the the organization or check its Web site. Websites such as Earth911 and the Electronic Industries Alliance can provide searchable databases and other information about local and national organizations that accept donated electronic items. Another option: Freecycle.org, where you can list your TV online in your community.

Sell it or trade it in
Thanks to ads in local papers and used-goods websites such as eBay and Craig’s List, you might also be able to sell an unwanted TV and in the process make some extra cash. Facebook now has a new integrated app, called Marketplace, where you can buy, sell or trade merchandise, including TVs. Since TVs can often be hard to ship, online buyers using any of these services can search only local items.

There are also several “trade-in” websites that offer a trade-in allowance good toward the purchase of a new product. Although most of the major ones, such as Gazelle.com, don’t yet accept TVs, another site, TechForward, lets you buy a guaranteed buyback plan on TVs that locks in how much you’ll receive for your trade-in in the future. Best Buy also runs an electronics trade-in program, but it currently doesn’t apply to TVs. Another site,  CEXchange, lets you enter a TV's make and model number to  get an estimate as to its its trade-in value. Most of the items sent to CEXchange are reburbished and resold. RadioShack's HDTV trade-in program  is powered by CEXchange.

Recycle it
Perhaps the fastest-growing green segment is recycling. Manufacturers, retailers, and third-party firms all offer recycling initiatives. Among retailers, Best Buy has been perhaps the most aggressive, and this week  launched its newest initiative,  “Recycle It On.” The program asks consumers to pledge to recycle by filling out an online application and encourage others to do the same.

Best Buy also offers in-store electronics recycling on most consumer electronics, with a few exceptions, generally charging a $10 recycling fee per for some items with screens; the fee is offset by a $10 Best Buy gift card. (Some Best Buy house brands, such as Insignia, Dynex, and VPR Matrix, are excluded.) The company also has a “haul-away” program that removes an old item from a home when a new item is purchased and delivered. You can also pay $100 for Best Buy to come to your home and remove up to two televisions for recycling. Details of the company’s recycling programs are available on its website

Among other retailers, Office Depot has a recycling program that covers smaller TVs, presumably those that will fit inside one of its large $15 recycling boxes. The box can be left at the store for recycling. Walmart’s TV recycling program, run in partnership with Samsung Recycling Direct, lets customers recycle Samsung consumer electronics, as well as Walmart’s former private brands Durabrand and Ilo, for free. TVs from other brands are accepted for a nominal fee. And Amazon has partnered with several organizations, including Green Earth Exchange,  to allow TV trade-ins in exchange for an Amazon gift card.

Manufacturer take-back programs
Most of the major TV brands now either run, or have formed partnerships for,  take-back programs to recycle old TVs. For example, MRM, founded by Panasonic, Sharp, and Toshiba, accepts all types and brands of consumer electronics for recycling at its sites across the country. There’s no fee for Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba, and Vizio TVs; other brands' TV are recycled for a fee (except in those states where such fees are prohibited). Other companies support MRM sites in selected states across the country.

LG Electronics has partnered with Waste Management’s WM Recycle America arm for the LG Electronics Recycling Program, which lets consumers drop off unwanted or broken LG products free at 200 designated drop-off centers. As mentioned, Samsung offers recycling through its Samsung Recycling Direct program, which combines drop-off locations, participating retailers, and special recycling events. Sony’s Take-Back Recycling program, also a partnership with WM Recycle America, lets consumers drop off items (or ship them to) either WM drop-off centers, or locations supporting its Greenfill drop-off program. Vizio is also part of the WM Recycle America program.

If you'd like additional infomation about properly disposing of an older TV, here are some additional resources:

James K. Willcox

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