Texas has a new law requiring television manufacturers to take back and recycle old sets in an effort to keep toxic materials including lead and mercury out of landfills and water.
Last week, Gov. Rick Perry signed the TV TakeBack Recycling bill into law after vetoing an effort in the last session. In 2007, he signed take-back legislation requirements for computers.
An estimated 25 million TVs are disposed of each year in the U.S., according to the Stacy Guidry, program director for the Texas Campaign for the Environment, an Austin-based statewide organization focused on recycling and trash issues. Old-style cathode ray tube TVs contain several pounds of lead, while most new flat-screen TVs contain mercury bulbs, she said.
"Older TVs have more e-waste," she said. "With the flame retardant, chromium, arsenic and cadmium, it's a toxic cocktail."
While flat-panel televisions have less lead, they have more mercury, she said.
Fewer than 1 in 5 televisions is recycled, Guidry said. The new law was one of the rare environmental victories during the legislative session, she said.
"We've been working on this since 2002," she said. "After Gov. Perry vetoed the last bill, we worked with the Consumer Electronics Association and came up with a two-pronged approach that manufactures can choose from."
Under the new law, manufacturers who sell in the state can join the Recycling Leadership Program and as a coalition put on 200 recycling events per year statewide. Or they can pay $2,500 a year to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and recycle televisions based on their share of sales in the state.
The legislation is the second of 24 other electronic take-back state laws supported by the Campaign for the Environment, according to Walter Alcorn, vice president of environmental affairs for the industry trade group. A similar television take-back law passed in Utah this year also had CEA support.
"Both Texas and Utah laws are conducive to a national program," he said. "We're trying to move away from patchwork state requirements. The new Texas law provides a framework that will scale to other states as well."
Alcorn said the industry is taking the toxins in televisions seriously, having launched in April the first industrywide electronics recycling initiative to recycle 1 billion pounds of electronics annually by 2016. That's more than triple a 2010 effort.
Those involved with the eCycling Leadership Initiative include Best Buy, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba. The initiative plans to improve consumer awareness of the more than 5,000 collection sites currently sponsored by industry and boost the number of collection sites.
Several television marketers already have recycling programs, Alcorn said. One is at Best Buy, which will take back most electronics, whether purchased at Best Buy or not.
"They do this at all of their 1,200 stores, including 100 stores in Texas," Alcorn said.
Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba and Visio established the Electronics Manufacturers Recycling Management Co. to develop recycling programs. It's open to all electronics manufacturers. Its website, www.mrmrecycling.com, offers a state-by-state breakdown of electronic recycling pickup sites.
In Fort Worth, Arlington, Grand Prairie, Denton, Hurst, Mansfield and several other Tarrant County cities, consumers can drop off their televisions and computers at landfills or at a Goodwill location at no cost for reuse or recycling under Goodwill's Computer Works program.
The program, which has been working with Fort Worth for more than five years, recycles several million pounds of computers, televisions and other electronics annually, said Ray Jones, senior vice president of electronic technology and refurbishment for Goodwill. "Thousands of TVs come through," he said. "We're even getting some flat screens."
Goodwill resells sets that work or can be fixed. The rest are turned over to responsible recyclers, Jones said.
The new law will focus in part on educating consumers about e-cycling programs already in place.
"In a study we did, 44 percent told us they put their e-waste into landfills," Guidry said. "It's really telling about the lack of public education on recycling this waste. We have a long road to go."
Over the next 10 months, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will design rules to implement and enforce the new law. A stakeholder meeting seeking public comment on the rules will be held July 7 in Austin.
Teresa McUsic's column