Green Guidance: Supersized TVs and Electronics

Green Guidance

Supersized TVs  and Electronics

The world's consumers own about 1.7 billion television sets-one for every four people-and 150 million new ones are added each year. Yet while in the poorest countries there is only one TV per dozen people, the average U.S. household has 2.4. As for personal computers, 1 billion had been sold by 2002, and annual sales have reached 130 million, with an old computer discarded for each new one purchased. Add in DVD players and other electronic devices, and you have a major increase in energy consumption, as well as toxic materials bound eventually for landfills.

Bigger-screen televisions, particularly plasma screens, can devour over four times the power of an older cathode ray tube set. Some plasma TVs eat up more energy annually than a refrigerator (one Panasonic set used 849 kilowatt hours/year, versus 670 kwh/year or less for many fridges). In the United States, TV-related energy use is predicted to rise 50 percent by 2009. In the United Kingdom, it's estimated that an additional six megawatts of power may be needed at peak hours to handle the new TVs.

Toxic components, including flame retardants known as deca-brominated diphenyl ethers (deca-BDEs), can be released from TV and computer cases and then inhaled or ingested. These chemicals accumulate in breast milk and may affect babies' developing brains. In addition, heavy metals like neurotoxic lead and mercury, as well as carcinogenic chromium and cadmium, can leach into the environment when the devices end up in landfills or are disassembled.

Happily, the European Union's "restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment" directive came into force in July 2006, and China recently adopted a similar law. Many electronics manufacturers are choosing to comply on a global scale. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has integrated the EU standards into its new green procurement guidelines for computers.

More DVD players and video games also mean more hours in front of the tube: Americans now spend 16 percent more time watching TV than they did in the 1980s, and sedentary lifestyles are contributing to rising obesity worldwide. Beyond that, psychologists increasingly agree that violent imagery in movies and video games spurs aggressive behavior in children and reduces cooperation. In children up to age three, TV watching can provoke long-term attention deficits.

Some tips for greening the electronic life of your household:

  • Look for low-energy models with smaller screens. In general, "as screen size gets bigger, power consumption goes up" regardless of the technology used, says Mehernaz Polad of ICF International, an energy consultant. For energy consumption information, Polad recommends CNET energy use ratings (http://reviews.cnet.com).
  • Avoid toxic inputs. All Sony and Panasonic electronics are PBDE-free, while Samsung and Sharp do not add flame retardants, although some may be contained in recycled plastics used in making new products.
  • Seek out ecolabels. Before buying a new model, try to upgrade your existing device. If you must buy, in the United States look for models selected by EPA's EPEAT program, which evaluates computer products according to 51 environmental criteria (epeat.net). In Europe, look for Sweden's Swan (svanen.nu/Eng) and TCO labels (tcodevelopment.com) as well as Germany's Blue Angel eco-label (blauer-engel.de). In Japan, look for the Eco-Mark label (ecomark.jp/english). Before they become outmoded, donate old machines for reuse.
  • Limit your kids' time before the console or computer. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours a day.
  • Investigate more active and imaginative gaming options. Some systems offer personalized health and fitness programs, electronic dance pads, and a variety of educational choices. "CO2FX" explores the relationship of global warming to economic, political, and policy factors (globalwarminginteractive.com); the United Nations' "Food Force" enables players to join an aid mission to feed the starving population of a fictitious war-torn island (food-force.com); and Nintendo's "Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus" and "Packy & Marlon" help young asthmatics and diabetics manage their illnesses.

Visit www.thegreenguide.com for complete product reports on computers and other electronics.

 

Paul W. McRandle is Senior Research Editor of The Green Guide, published by The Green Guide Institute, which provides the research for this department.

 

 

Credit line for illustration:

Joan A. Wolbier