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The ABCs of DTV, Part 3

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Middlebury, Vermont - February 21, 2008

As more people are buying new digital TVs, retailers aren't the only ones seeing an increase in business.

Solid waste districts say they're seeing more TVs being recycled.

Donald Maglienti is the program coordinator of the Addison County Solid Waste District, which takes in about 80 old sets a week.

"Some of them are pretty old," he said. "We still get a lot of the old wooden console systems, the ones with the vice grips on the channel changer."

Addison County has collected electronics since 1999, and Maglienti says the amount has skyrocketed in the past year. It collected 118 tons of electronics in 2007, up 40 percent from the year before. A television that was once a family's new toy is now its old trash.

"Most of the time they're upgrading," Maglienti said, "which is why we're concerned about this new changeover next year."

That changeover -- when broadcasters stop transmitting an analog signal. Starting in February 2009, only digital signals will be broadcast.

While people won't have to get rid of their old TVs, Maglienti expects many people will be replacing them with new digital televisions.

He hopes their old ones will be recycled so toxic materials and heavy metals don't end up in a landfill. It's a problem he says many people don't know exists.

"They're just wondering why all this special treatment has to be exercised for something that had been sitting in their living room for their whole lives -- something that seems innocuous and suddenly it's hazardous," he said. "So we get a lot of questions about why all this special handling."

That special handling happens at a warehouse a few miles away in Middlebury. Every week Good Point Recycling handles three tractor-trailer loads of used electronics, mostly from solid waste districts around Vermont and other parts of the Northeast.

About half of that is old TVs -- 40 or 50 a day. And it's preparing to handle even more.

"At the beginning, computers were the focus and we added the TVs just as a favor," explained Robin Ingenthron, founder of Good Point Recycling. "Now we're finding the response is overwhelming and we're looking for even more of it next year when the digital standards start."

Ingenthron said Good Point Recycling tries to resell as much as it can, noting there is a demand, especially overseas, for computers in good working condition.

But there just isn't a market for old televisions.

There is a market, though, for their parts.

As some of his 20 employees disassembled the old televisions, Ingenthron singled out copper wiring as an example of the value.

"The grade of copper we get out of these is an extremely high grade of refined electric copper," he explained.

Ingenthron said recycled materials such as aluminum, steel, lead and glass are cheaper and more energy efficient than mining and creating new materials.

"Once you go to the effort to separate the materials, you find metals demand is huge. They need more metals to make new products. The lead in the cathode ray tubes goes to a CRT manufacturer in Malaysia, Samsung, that buys them and recycles them into new cathode ray tubes for new TVs."

While these old metals are precious to manufacturers, they are poison to landfills, he said. "Left in a landfill or put in an incinerator, and sent out a smokestack, those are toxins that will come back and haunt us."

So recyclers are hoping people who get new TVs think twice about how they get rid of their old ones. Solid waste districts in Vermont charge about five to fifteen dollars to take in an old set. Ingenthron said it is one option for keeping yesterday's technology from becoming tomorrow's problem.

"It might cost five more dollars than putting it in a landfill, but it would take a guy at the landfill 2 hours to bury all this stuff," he said.

Kate Duffy - WCAX News

Related Stories:

The ABCs of DTV, Part 1

The ABCs of DTV, Part 2

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