Recycling Spotlight: Flatscreen Televisions
Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at PC Pro? We say we recycle your old electronics, but what really happens? Follow us to see what happens to each and every component in the devices you donate. This week, our focus is on the wide variety of televisions that come through our shop, ranging from 19" fluorescent-lamp-powered LCDs to plasma screens and 70" LED displays. Recycling televisions can be difficult and hazardous, but it is just part of what we do. We've previously shown you how we recycle laptop batteries and desktop computers.
By and large, most of the televisions that are donated to us simply have broken screens. That means that with a little bit of technical knowledge and the right tools we're able to harvest the remaining usable components (and don't forget the stand the television is on - imagine if yours broke and you needed a replacement). This is how we make money and also helps pay for recycling the raw and hazardous materials these televisions contain. If you're comfortable using both Ebay and a screwdriver, you could do this yourself at home while following basic safety precautions. Of course, if the television is broken for any other reason, it gets the typical PC Pro treatment of a full diagnostic check to identify which parts are still usable and which need to be recycled. If there's a chance a part will break, there's a chance someone is looking for a replacement. Reuse is even better than recycling!
Most recent flatscreen televisions come in three types: Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) using fluorescent bulbs, LCDs using Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), and plasma displays, which are illuminated by gases trapped inside the display. As you might imagine, there are hazardous materials in just about every television. Fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, plasma and LCD displays contain heavy metals like beryllium, chromium, cadmium and occasionally lead, and many contain toxic flame retardant treatments.
It's easy getting the valuable parts while recycling televisions - you usually just unscrew the back cover to easily access every component. It's much harder to separate the rest of the television for recycling, which is why it is recommended to take the whole display to a recycler and pay a fee to have them process it the rest of the way. We do this separation in house, but we're ultimately left with an LCD screen, fluorescent lamps or a plasma display that we still have to pay a processing facility to take off of our hands. If you go in blind, you are very likely to break a fluorescent bulb or end up with powdered glass all over your skin from a cracked LCD screen. Don't ask us how we know.
All in all, it can take up to an hour or two and a few cut fingers to completely separate some of these televisions. With a little experience, and a little patience to remove the 20 parts from a plasma television, it gets much easier, faster and safer.