What Is Recyclable in a TV?
By Erik Arvidson
Although many old or non-working televisions contain lead and other hazardous substances that make them too dangerous to simply discard into a landfill, they also contain some valuable materials and components that can be recycled. Many of these materials, such as plastics, glass, scrap metals and even circuit boards, can be reused to make other products. However, even newer television sets, such as liquid crystal display (LCD) TVs, contain materials difficult to recycle because they contain toxic substances.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans discarded 27 million television sets in 2007, with just 18 percent of those being recycled. Many consumers had upgraded their TVs as a result of the nationwide transition from analog to digital TV broadcast technology, tossing out their older, box-shaped cathode ray tube (CRT) sets for new, flat-panel TVs. Older TVs contain lead, copper, steel and aluminum that can be recovered through recycling programs, according to the EPA.
The glass from CRT TV screens can be recycled. However, this glass typically contains a large amount of lead, making it hazardous to discard into landfills. In addition, the glass can't be recovered through the normal recycling process like glass bottles and jars can. Instead, a recycling company will crush, separate and clean the TV glass, which can then be used to manufacture new TV screens or computer monitors, according to YNot Recycle. Sometimes, the lead inside CRT glass can be used to create a chemical cleaning agent to remove slag from lead that has been mined.
A TV circuit board may contain a variety of reusable materials. According to YNot Recycle, circuit boards can be shredded into a powder form, then analyzed and separated into plastics and precious metals. These materials can be used to make jewelry and computer chips.
Plastics and Metals
Many TVs contain plastic casings, which can be shredded and then analyzed by a recycler, who can turn the plastic material into resins for new products, or even fuels. In addition, recycling companies can take the metal clips and screws inside a TV and melt them into metal materials that can be reused, according to YNot Recycle.
According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, it's difficult and costly to recycle old TV sets. This is because many TVs -- even more advanced technologies, such as LCD TVs -- were not designed with recycling in mind. As an example, most LCD TVs use mercury-based lamps to illuminate the screen. Mercury is highly toxic, which means the recycling company needs to remove the lamps before putting the screen through the recycling process. Disassembling the TV is a long and costly process, and many recyclers will simply put the entire TV into a shredder, which potentially could expose employees to mercury contamination.
Erik Arvidson has 12 years of professional writing experience, including six years as a senior reporter at the Massachusetts Statehouse for several suburban dailies, and most recently as PR Manager of a telecommunications company near Boston. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English/communications from North Adams State College.