Toxic TVs: Best steps in the right direction

The recycling of e-waste is not always a straightforward or convenient process. Given the lack of ease and potential fees associated with recycling e-waste, it seems like a daunting task to tackle the growing waste problem. In fact, it is often hard to find recyclers who are willing to take e-waste. Why is that? As more people are becoming aware, televisions and other electronics often contain hazardous innards. Our LED TVs often contain toxins and other dangerous materials, such as heavy metals and flame retardants, which can have harmful effects on human health if someone is exposed to them. The recycling centres aren’t advanced enough to recycle such large items nor to cope with the disposal of chemical waste. As a result, local councils will not permit you to put your old flat screen out with the regular trash or even during large appliance pick-up. 


In this article, we answer some of the most common questions that will help you learn more about the environmental dangers of TV and the steps you need to take to prevent the worst:

  • How are TVs harmful to the environment?
  • What is the carbon footprint of a TV?
  • Which TVs are best for the environment?


Television’s Effects on the Natural Environment

There are a few ways that televisions can have harmful effects on the environment. The first way is by the mining and production of the materials that make up a TV. The process of mining for metals can cause pollution and damage to the natural environment. On the other hand, just like any other electronic device, TVs have components that, once disposed of, can be extremely harmful to the environment. Even though nowadays flat screen LED TVs don’t have as many toxic substances as older TVs, including lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and barium, they still have some.

The most common environmental hazard in TVs is still lead. In fact, the Environmental Working Group found that lead and cadmium levels in TVs are far higher than in children’s toys! Lead can be found in the picture tube, in the solder that holds the circuitry together, and in the glass of flat-screen TVs. So, how are TVs harmful to humans? For example, lead can damage the brain and nervous system, while mercury can damage the kidneys and lungs. In addition, e-waste can also release greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere, which contribute to global warming.

In 2020, Professor Michael J. Prather of the University of California–Irvine sounded the alarm in regards to a hidden greenhouse gas that is often utilised in the production of flat-screen televisions. According to Prather’s research, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), which is often employed to clean flat-screen manufacturing equipment, is 17,000 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Televisions also contain other harmful chemicals. The substances as they are discovered in their natural state range from argon gas to platinum ore, and many raw materials are then combined into other secondary materials that are then assembled into the parts of the television.

The following infographic presents the Life Cycle of Television Materials, inclusive of the chemicals that taint the air and surrounding areas, posing a health risk to humans and animals. 




Climate risk from flat-screen TVs – does watching TV increase carbon footprint?

In 2011 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) ran the studies on the energy cost of producing and transmitting television programming. They wanted to find out what’s the carbon footprint of watching television, comparing digital terrestrial television with video-on-demand. The results were surprising. The BBC found out that the biggest contribution to global warming comes from the making of LCD glass, and the second biggest is when consumers use the television. Using the functional unit of kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per hour of viewing, they found these traces to be 0.088 kg CO2e/viewer-hour and for online delivery of video-on-demand ranges from 0.030-0.086 kg CO2e/viewer-hour, respectively. 

In recent years the carbon footprint of televisions has increased significantly due to the higher number of flat-screen TVs being produced but also due to the longer time spent on watching television and video streaming.  

The energy intensity figures for data centres and data transmission networks have been updated to reflect more recent data and research. As a result, research by the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that an hour of video streaming in 2019 was producing 36 gCO2. Same analysis published in February 2020 showed as much as 82 gCO2 produced per viewer per hour. This coupled with the short lifespans of devices, hastens turnover, and as a result accelerates the rate of CO2 emissions produced, greatly increasing the negative impact of televisions on the environment. Therefore it is important for TV recyclers to invest in technologically advanced recycling robots that can safely, efficiently and cost-effectively deal with TV recycling.


The best eco-friendly, energy-efficient TVs of 2022

Let’s start with an eco-friendly TV. Could this be an oxymoron? Maybe not in the future, but for now it’s worth remembering that while some TVs are more energy efficient than others, none are eco-friendly. For example, rear-projection LED and OLED (organic light-emitting diode) televisions tend to be more energy efficient than LCDs and are far better energy-wise compared to plasma screen TVs. On top of that, OLED TVs provide the best picture and use less energy but are expensive. On the other hand, LED TVs are free of mercury, a toxic metal used in all fluorescent lights. The backlit LED screen offers HD resolution and a range of power-reduction settings. In numbers: 94% of Energy Star certified TVs are LED TVs. 89% of these are direct-lit LED TVs, while 11% are edge-lit. 

For TV buyer’s the first step in the right direction is to recycle an old TV in a trusted TV recycling company. Next step is to buy an energy-efficient model from the list of ENERGY STAR Certified Flat-Screen TVs such as Sony, LG OLED, TLC or Sansui.