Millions of Old Japanese TVs Recycled

2011: The end of Analog TVsToday is Blog Action Day, and this year over 14,000 bloggers are discussing environmental issues with a combined audience of over 12 million people. That’s a lot of people. Now, imagine all those people lining up to recycle their old analog TVs, and you’ve got the topic of my contribution to this Blog Action Day.

What will happen to old TV sets?

By 2011, Japan will have phased out terrestrial analog broadcasting in favor of digital, making the millions of analog TVs still in use redundant. I’ve been wondering what will happen to all these television sets when people rush out in droves to replace them. I suppose the worst case scenario is that some individuals will dump them on the side of a road or somewhere in the mountains. Smart criminals will visit houses offering to dispose of any old TV sets for a fee… and then dump them on roadsides, in the mountains or in rivers and lakes. Hopefully more legitimate ways of chucking out the box will be made more publicly known as the deadline approaches.

Why can’t we dump them in landfills?

There are a few reasons. First, I don’t believe you can dump electronics without paying a fee. Second, TVs contain toxic elements such as lead and mercury, and third, big TV sets take up space and will fill up the landfills well before 2011, if they aren’t full already!

Is there such a thing as a TV recycling law?

Japan’s Home Appliance Recycling Law came into effect in April 2001. It covers four major types of home appliances: televisions, refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioners and requires that (i) consumers pay a recycling fee when disposing of home appliances; (ii) retailers take back discarded appliances and pass them on to manufacturers; and (iii) manufacturers recycle discarded appliances thus retrieved. It also became a requirement for “the recycling performance of home appliance manufacturers to be disclosed at their respective homepages and the homepage of the Association of Electric Home Appliances.

What is Sony doing about TV recyling?

Sony's TV recycling statsSony reveal their figures on their website and say that they have “established a nationwide cooperative recycling network with five other manufacturers” and that last year 760,000 of their TVs were recycled. The law requires that at least 55% of a manufacturer’s televisions are recycled and Sony exceeded that figure with a 75% recycle rate.

I assume that the recycling network Sony are part of is actually Kansai Recycling Systems, a group comprised of six electrical companies – Mitubishi Materials Corporation, Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd., Sony Corporation, Hitachi Compliance Group, Fujitsu general, and Mitsubishi Electric Co. According to the Japan Corporate News Network, the latest Kansai Recycling Systems factory in Hirakata, Osaka, has…

special recycling technology encompassing the whole process from taking the TV apart to refining glass to micro pieces. The factory also uses natural energy such as solar, biomass, micro hydraulic power, and geothermal heat. Recycling of TVs has widely penetrated in the community, with 11.6 million TVs recycled in 2005 which is up 104% compared to the previous year.

Matsushita Electric takes recycling into the space age

A report from 2003 on the BBC called Japanese plant takes on e-waste discusses how Matsushita Electric, best known for its Panasonic brand, has built an advanced recycling plant in Yashiro, western Japan. The Matsushita Eco-Technology Center (Metec) is particularly high-tech. Reporter J Mark Lytle says,

Inside, Metec could hardly come as more of a surprise. Instead of the anticipated wrecking gear manned by grimy grunts, the building is peopled by scientists and technicians in white coats and safety goggles. There are more computer displays than wrenches on view here.

It is also an education center which “can be used to teach elementary and junior high school students about the importance of the environment and recycling” so that has to be a good thing. In fact, I went to the Metec site, and noticed on the Japanese page that the recycling statistics haven’t been updated since December 2006. However, it was great to see that between December 4th and 9th, they recycled 4,682 televisions!

Will Japan be recycle-ready by 2011?

With new recycling laws and the efforts being made by TV manufacturers, I don’t think there will be a TV-dumping problem at all. I would hope that as the deadline approaches, current digital TVs will become cheaper to buy and hopefully stores will allow you to trade in your analog TV when you buy a new one. Meanwhile, there will be television collection days in each neighborhood. Most likely the news stations will go crazy, warning us that if we don’t upgrade our TVs and recycle our old ones, the world will end. So yes, I think Japan will be ready.

If you like, you can find me on Twitter at @nick_ramsay. I'd love to hear from you!

4 thoughts on “Millions of Old Japanese TVs Recycled

  1. Great post, Nick. It would be nice to see some of the digital TVs come down in price, but it’d be even nicer if people could get a digital to analog converter for a very low price. This would let millions of people that can’t afford (or want) a new TV to continue using their existing sets. I’ve seen a few digital boxes being sold, but they’re often half as much as a cheap digital television set 😕

    1. I have to say that I’m experiencing a bit of culture shock over the price of digital to analogue converters in Japan.
      Converters tend to be the favoured option in Australia, selling from around $50 (that’s $US45 – about 2 hours worth of average Aussie wages) for a standard definition converter, going up to around $200 (a day’s basic Aussie wage) for a HD box.

      Both are very cheap options compared the $1400 or so that we pay for a cheap HD digital TV.

      Since old TV’s tend to be standard definition (640×480 PAL), those of us betting the price of digital sets will tumble in the next couple of years are parting with the equivalent price of a carton of beer to convert our old beasts to receive ultra-clear digital signals until HD digital technology is more affordable.

      I’m guessing there are some fundamental differences in play driving the disparity in converter affordability – maybe its the type of signal Japan is using, or perhaps it’s just that digital TV’s are much cheaper in Japan, making the converter a less attractive option.
      … the more insidious (but probably completely wrong) alternative would be that Japan’s manufacturers are overpricing converters in the hope of upselling people to new tv’s.
      I definitely don’t know enough on the regional nuances to draw any conclusions, but I found the difference in the ways we’re being led to approach the switch to digital TV quite striking.

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