Just over half of 17 major television makers in the U.S. score a failing "F" grade when it comes to recycling old television sets, according to a survey carried out by recycling pressure group the Electronics TakeBack Coalition.
Among the nine companies that were ranked "F" was Vizio, which held fourth place in LCD (liquid crystal display) TV sales in the third quarter, and Sanyo was ranked fifth in plasma TV shipments in the same period. The other companies -- all scored F because they have no voluntary takeback program -- were Funai, Hitachi, JVC, Mitsubishi, Philips, Thomson and Target, said the ETBC which is a group of non-profit organizations promoting responsible recycling and green design in the electronics industry.
The highest ranked was Sony, which scored a "B-." It gained praise for being the first TV maker to launch a nationwide takeback program but was called on to open more recycling centers.
Samsung and LG, which recently launched takeback programs, and Wal-Mart, which has partnered with Samsung for its own-brand TVs, all got a "C" ranking. Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba and Best Buy received a "D." The first three manufacturers have a joint recycling operation but it has only recently beyond expanding beyond states that require recycling.
The ranking comes with just 90 days left before the U.S. switches off broadcast analog TV in favor or newer digital signals. After Feb. 17 sets will either need digital tuners or a set-top box to continue receiving TV channels. The switch is prompting many consumers to upgrade to new digital TVs ahead of the transition. In the July to September quarter TV shipments in North America were up 12 percent year-on-year to more than 10 million units despite the worsening economy, said DisplaySearch last week.
What happens to the more than 10 million sets being replaced isn't known. Consumers typically keep old televisions when they are replaced in the living room and move them to other areas of the house but are eventually placed in the garbage.
The ETBC is campaigning for all TV makers to offer to take back old sets from consumers and recycle or dispose of them responsibly.
By ranking the companies, the ETBC is taking a cue from Greenpeace, which began publishing a scorecard of consumer electronics companies based on their green credentials. The Greenpeace ranking takes in a wider range of issues but appears to have been successful in prompting companies to expand their environmental efforts or at least open up reporting of environmental issues.
In explaining its ranking of TV makers, the ETBC criticized the lack of transparency in many of the recycling programs and lack of details on how toxic materials are being handled.
"We believe that companies who are doing this right should be fully transparent about their vendors, their standards, and the ultimate destinations for these materials," said the group in a statement. "When we don't see full transparency, we have serious concerns that there is a reason for the silence."
A spokesman for Sanyo, one of the companies that got an "F" rating, said the lack of a developed infrastructure for the return of old televisions made it difficult to operate a nationwide recycling program. In Japan, where the law requires TV set manufacturers to handle their old products, stores and set makers work together to collect and dispose of old TVs. In the U.S. it's much more difficult, particularly if the stores don't want to get involved, he said.