Q With the coming of digital signals next year, I bought new TVs. Now I have three analog sets in perfect working order that I don't want. Is there anyplace that will take these as donations? And won't this be a big problem next year as everybody changes their TV sets?
A Maybe. By federal mandate, the country's TV signals will go digital in 2009 and some experts fear that it will create a tidal wave of pollution. That's because lots of people will be unloading their old TV sets.
Viewers whose TV sets use antennae -- and there are a surprising number of them out there, especially in Minnesota, according to state officials -- will have to make some modifications in order to receive digital signals.
To watch with an analog TV, viewers basically have these choices: Sign up for cable or satellite feed, or buy a signal converter box or a special HDTV antennae.
"I suspect that they will buy new TVs" instead, said Garth Hickle with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
With an average of 2.8 TVs per home, according to a U.S. Census analysis, the digital change could mean some 30 million to 80 million TVs will be discarded nationally, he said.
But it's difficult to know for sure.
The number of new digital TVs marching out the doors these days means that the change may be underway, and that the swell of junked TVs in 2009 won't be so great.
Either way, all that new equipment really eats up natural resources, and the discarded TVs are a potent potential pollution source. Each set contains 2 to 8 pounds of lead and other toxic materials that can contaminate air and water if not handled properly.
That's why the Legislature enacted the Minnesota Electronics Recycling Act last year. Basically, it's a recycling plan that requires manufacturers to help pay for the recycling of TVs and monitors, and an incentive for consumers because it should make recycling easier and free.
Yet, it's not the perfect answer. The law requires recycling, but it doesn't, and can't, prescribe where or how.
People don't have to get rid of what still works, said MPCA's Glenn Krocheski-Meyer. A better response than buying new and throwing away the old may be buying a conversion box. Many of the high-definition TVs guzzle electricity, making them less than Earth-friendly. Conversion boxes will be for sale at electronics stores for about $60, some estimate, and the federal government will be issuing $40 coupons to households to offset the cost. Even those who use TV antennae will have a cheap fix in a triangular set-top antenna, offered by several companies for about $25, if all they want to watch is network programming.
Few organizations accept TV sets, even those in working order. That's because eventually they will need to be recycled and that can cost money and extra effort.
"It's unloading your problem onto someone else," said Angie Timmons with Hennepin County Environmental Services.
But some smaller thrift businesses will still take TVs. For a list of names, go to www.co.hennepin.mn.us and click on the green tab labeled "Environment, Property and Transportation." Then click on "Choose to Reuse Directory" in the right-side menu. Select TVs as the category and the search will get you a list of places that accept TV donations and their telephone numbers. Be sure to call before going there with your TVs.
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