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Holes in the ozone layer, global warming, acid rain -- how much of this is due to TV and video,  we’ve collected together some fascinating green facts that highlight the

environmental impact of consumer electronics




* A typical 1990’s colour TV, switched on for six hours a day, costs around £13.00 a year to run, or just over £100 during it’s eight year working life. It’s getting better though. Thirty years ago the average family TV was  a 17-inch black and white valve set, it consumed three times as much power and rarely lasted longer than five years.


* A few years ago, before electricity privatisation, staff were employed at the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB as was ..) to scrutinise the daily TV schedules. Their job was to identify periods of peak demand, to work out which of the country’s power stations needed to be kept on standby, to meet sudden increases in power consumption. These peaks coincided with the ad-breaks in popular programmes like Coronation Street, when several million people simultaneously decided to put the kettle on. The CEGB finally got fed up with this and built two special power stations to meet this intermittent demand. The most famous one is built inside a Welsh mountain, at Dinorwig. During the day, when there is a surplus of power water is pumped up the mountain into a vast holding tank; during the evening, when there’s a sudden jump in demand, the water is released to drive enormous turbines which can be on-line to the grid in a matter of seconds.


* Televisions and VCRs are much more energy efficient these days, and the use of switched-mode power supplies has reduced the amount of wasteful heat they give off, however, overall energy per household has still risen as we purchase larger and louder TVs -- many homes have two TVs nowadays -- plus all of the other gadgets, including VCRs, satellite receivers, powerful hi-fis, video games, personal computers, the list goes on and on and is growing all the time.


* Leaving devices like TVs, VCRs and satellite receivers switched on in the standby mode isn’t dangerous -- they’re rated for this kind of continuous operation -- but it does waste energy. Most VCRs consume around 25 watts when they’re working, this falls to 12 watts in the standby mode. Over the course of a year that adds up to around £9.00’s worth of electricity.


* Televisions can be a health hazard, valve sets could emit dangerous amounts of x-ray radiation, linked with cancer and sterility. Today’s TVs are much safer, though the low-levels of electromagnetic radiation they produce have been associated with birth defects, headaches and epilepsy.


* TVs contain a variety of very dangerous materials, especially all the plastics, which give off toxic fumes when they’re burnt. These include chemicals that combine at high temperatures to produce dioxins, a particularly nasty family of compounds that were used in defoliants during the Vietnam war, including the infamous Agent Orange


* Panasonic, a company with an exceptionally good environmental record, is now using recycled industrial waste in the manufacture of the speakers used in their TVs. Panasonic also mark all the components in their TVs and VCRs with material identity codes, so they can be more efficiently sorted for recycling when the product is thrown away.


* Most consumer electronics manufacturers use transit cartons made from recycled paper and cardboard but Grundig have gone one stage further and now use papier-mâché packing materials -- similar to egg boxes -- instead of expanded polystyrene, to protect their products. This is due to very strict German environmental legislation which insists manufacturers take responsibility for ensuring all packaging materials are returned and recycled.


* Hitachi are taking green issues very seriously. Assemblies in their latest TVs and VCRs are clipped together, rather than more energy intensive welding or gluing. They use a high-percentage of recycled and reconstituted materials in the construction of their TV cabinets and stands, and plan to start using water-based (i.e. solvent-free) paints in the near future.


* Philips have begun a scheme to reclaim circuit boards from old TVs. Most of the components cannot be recycled but they do contain a lot of valuable metals, including gold, copper, tin and lead.



Ó R. Maybury 1994 1310









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