Last week, our old 19-inch tube TV became very ill -- it starting painting everything a weird shade of green -- and so we went out and bought a snazzy new 27-inch flat screen display. We were really happy with our new purchase -- until we realized that we now had to figure out how to get rid of the old TV.We could just leave it for the garbage collection, but then it would end up in a landfill somewhere, and that wasn't a suitable ending for our trusty old set (especially considering all the nature shows we'd watched on it). Or we could do a bit of googling, and try to find some kind of recycling service that accepts consumer contributions without requiring too much of a monetary contribution in return.
It's hard for today's consumers -- who tend to own a lot of electronic devices, including televisions, stereos, radios, computers, portable media players, cell phones, and a plethora of other products -- to try to dispose of old technology in an ecologically conscious manner. If the product is still in working condition (and isn't so old that nobody could possibly use it) you can sell it on eBay, or give it away on the Freecycle Network. But neither of those alternatives would work for our broken TV (or for the eight-year-old computer sitting in our basement).
It helps, of course, if your computer company offers help in recycling older systems. For example, Dell will recycle their branded products for free, or another brand of computer and monitor if you've just bought one of theirs. And according to Hewlett-Packard, one of the top manufacturers of printers and printer cartridges, the company recycled more than 164 million pounds of hardware and HP print cartridges in its 2006 fiscal year.
However, if you believe the organization Greenpeace (and I often do), some companies that you'd expect to be very environmentally aware are falling down on the job. In a recent report, Greenpeace asserted that Apple (the company that markets itself as the youthful, blue-jeaned, we're-not-the-suits computer manufacturer) ranked last in its "Green Ranking" of 14 major electronics manufacturers because of Apple's failure to make any progress in its recycling and toxic content policies. (The winner? Lenovo, the Chinese systems manufacturer that picked up where IBM left off.) Apple disagrees, pointing out that it did well on the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool sponsored by the Green Electronics Council.
Meanwhile, corporations are also admitting that conserving resources may be good for the bottom line as they try to rein in operating costs and realize that dumping tons of old office computers into landfills may not be good for their image.
So there are ways that companies, and consumers, can safely and environmentally dispose of all those toxic substances. But you've got to look for them -- and hope that they're available. I'm lucky enough to live in a large city, where local organizations hold periodic recycling fairs for electronics and other disposables. Many don't have that option -- and that is really too bad.