Trash TV

Linda McFarland is making a name for herself as a gadfly in the mandated digital switchover plan by urging her colleagues in the waste management industry to petition the FCC and TV manufacturers for millions of dollars to fund the disposal of analog TV sets.

At a meeting during Wastecon, a trade show for solid waste professionals last October, McFarland, the executive director of Classic Computer Recovery, Inc. in Garden City, Mich., proposed that attendees petition the FCC to require the commission to pay $4 to $5 per analog set “to offset the cost of sorting the TVs out of the garbage stream” from November 2008 through December 2009. By her calculations the total FCC tab would be “no more than $126 million.”

She also urged her colleagues to get TV manufacturers to offer retailers a $20 rebate on new DTV sets. The amassed rebates would offset recycler charges and the retailers’ added burden of collecting analog trade-ins from customers and storing them on their lots until recyclers retrieved them.

This two-part agenda “would give the solid waste industry incentive to do the right thing and sort the TVs out of the regular garbage pickups instead of ‘landfilling’ them,” McFarland said.

McFarland’s Classic Computer Recovery operation expanded into television collection in 2004 as an extension of its municipal markets business. “Out of 83 counties in the state of Michigan, only 12 have permanent drop off facilities, and out of those 12, only six handle e-waste,” she said, adding that Michigan was by no means alone in overlooking the obvious. “We’re not ready for the [digital switchover] event, other than to fill up landfills.”

Her call to arms was published in various industry publications and mass e-mailed to mainstream media throughout the country. But, at presstime, McFarland admitted that she, herself, had yet to send the petition to the FCC or any manufacturers group. Contact was limited to one letter to Panasonic.

In response, Panasonic advised her that since 2000 it had co-sponsored 1,415 free ongoing programs and events in 29 states that resulted in the collection and recycling of 31,253,546 pounds of unwanted electronics through responsible recyclers.


TV Technology sent a copy of the petition to the FCC, the Consumer Electronics Association, and Sony Electronics.

The FCC declined comment. Spokesperson Mary Diamond said the agency could not respond to the petition because it was not addressed or sent to the FCC directly by the petitioner. Separately (and off the record), other agency officials asked why McFarland had not petitioned Congress, since it sets the FCC budget, or the Environmental Protection Agency. This opinion was shared by Parker Brugge, senior director and environmental counsel for CEA.

In response, McFarland said, “the reason we went after the FCC [is] because they’re in charge of this digital switchover and they would be the first line of fire.”

Brugge said redirecting some of the spectrum sale proceeds into recycling was not as farfetched as some might believe, as Congress has discussed their allocation towards far less-related items, like the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina cleanup.

“That’s certainly an interesting proposal,” he said. “But the premise that consumers are going to throw away old analog TVs because of the digital transition is just not correct.”

(click thumbnail)Sony currently provides 80 drop-off centers nationwide to unload old TV sets and hopes to have one in each state (at least 150 sites) by September 2008.McFarland estimated that “28 million TVs will enter the solid waste stream because of the FCC-mandated digital switchover in February 2009.” Although she admitted that this was just “an educated guess,” she cited an April 2007 Environmental Protection Agency report that indicated an estimated 20.5 million TVs (out of a total 23.5 million “end of life” models) hit the landfills in 2003, 21.2 million (of 23.5 million EOLs) were dumped there in 2004, and 22.2 million (of 24 million), landed there in 2005.

The digital switchover connection was less apparent.

“Televisions that rely on satellite or cable won’t be impacted by the digital transition,” said Brugge. “We estimate that [only] 11 percent of televisions rely on over-the-air broadcasts [and their owners] can purchase a digital-to-analog converter box.”


Roxanne Smith, press secretary for the Environmental Protection Agency also cautioned against “thinking that a large number of TVs will be dumped” because of the digital switchover, agreeing that “these television sets will still work if hooked up to cable or a satellite dish, or with a converter.”

But neither she nor Brugge believed the number of TV sets dumped would decline anytime soon.

“Manufacturers that sold [these] products were not expecting to have to take responsibility for recycling them,” said Brugge. “Our position is that all stakeholders—retailers, consumers, manufacturers, all levels of government—should share in the responsibility of recycling.”

A page on the CEA Web site (, educates consumers on recycling. Sony Electronics’ spokesperson Rachelle Arcebido indicated that her company’s “Take Back Recycling Program,” launched last September with Waste Management Inc., pays for recycling and provides 80 drop-off centers nationwide. Its goal is to have one in each state (at least 150 sites) by September 2008.

“Within five years, we’d like to see 95 percent of the U.S. population have a drop-off collection center within 20 miles of where they live,” said Arcebido.

CE has also been working with its members and Congress to develop a position in regard to financing a nationwide recycling program.

Nine states have e-waste recycling laws: California, Connecticut, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Washington. Four out of the nine just passed legislation this year; laws in North Carolina and Texas cover IT products but not TVs. California laws put the brunt of financing on consumers; Maine laws bill manufacturers. This patchwork quilt of solutions is less than optimal.

The Congressional e-Waste Working Group, which includes Mary Bono (R-Calif.), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Zach Wamp (R-Tenn) and Mike Thomson (D-Calif.) has been meeting with stakeholders, according to Brugge.

“They said, ‘we don’t want to develop the system for you, we’d like you to come to us with a proposal,’” she said. “So we’ve been working with them to try and develop that proposal.” CEA is also working with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on similar recycling initiatives.