“The graveyards of analog TV” reads the headline in the stark, black-and-white two-page photo spread in Shukan Post (July 1). Just off a rural hiking trail in Iga City, Mie Prefecture—a town famous in olden times for training ninja—were dozens of illegally discarded analog TVs.
A sign along a forest road in Wakayama Prefecture urges passers by: “Use your cell phone camera to shoot the license place of illegal dumpers, and you’ll become eligible to draw for a free vacation in Okinawa!”
Aside from creating eyesores, the glass in the monitors of CRT TVs contains lead, a toxic substance. Left out in the rain, these TVs may pollute the soil and ground water.
From December 2003 to the present, the changeover from analog to digital TV on July 24 has rendered obsolete some 80 million TV sets, the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association estimates.
The great analog TV die-off now appears to be peaking. In 2009, the nation’s 49 disassembly and recycling plants for discarded TVs processed 9.21 million sets; last year the figure leaped to 15.6 million. And more are coming.
While reassuring data from the government claims that nearly all the nation’s households (around 98% at the end of May) will be digital-ready when the big day comes, small businesses and commercial users—hotels, hospitals, schools and others—are reportedly lagging behind in efforts to upgrade. An estimated 31.2 million of these analog units are about to become obsolete, although perhaps two-thirds may still be usable through connection to analog-to-digital converters.
One thing that’s certain: there are a lot more TVs than there are facilities for recycling with them. This is borne out by 2010 figures from Ecology Ministry showing a gap between the 17.37 million TVs collected and 15.6 million that underwent recycling. What happened to the other 1.77 million? Officially no one knows—they just vanished.
“When the disassembly/recycling plants can’t keep up with the manufacturers’ requests, they’ll subcontract the overflow to companies like us,” says a trash collector in Kansai. “Since they want to avoid the high charges of warehousing the TVs, more of them have been coming to us to deal with the overflow. Business has picked up quite a bit since last year.”
Since the rush on new models last year, the problem of disposing of analog TVs has also affected retail sales.
“Nearly all customers who buy a new digital model request that their old TV be discarded,” says a appliance dealer in Tokyo. “But the transport companies say their storage facilities for the old TVs are filled to overflowing, so we’re having to turn down customers’ requests.”
Some of the analog models, mostly those with screens of less than 20 inches, can be exported for re-use in countries using the same NTSC format as Japan, such as the Philippines, Myanmar and Peru.
“They sell for between 300 to 400 yen per unit, with a margin less than 100 yen per set,” one such exporter tells the magazine. “There’s no money to be made, but the old TVs keep coming, so we don’t have any other choice but to ship them.”
Meanwhile, the illegal dumping continues unabated. And it’s not necessarily confined to rural districts. A worker at the Nagoya city office’s environment section says more people have been shamelessly discarding analog TVs on the streets in drinking areas or along sidewalks, or at refuse pick-up points.
“From the start of this year, illegal dumping has picked up sharply,” he tells Shukan Post. “Just in April and May, we had to dispose of 328 sets. The cost must be covered by public funds. It’s a real headache.”