Replace a broken TV? Perhaps not the greenest solution

Landfills pollute

Landfills pollute recommends a wasteful approach that boosts sales but isn't at all green. To suggest that this is a good economic decision begs the question: for who?

I ran across this article today: "What Happens When Your HDTV Finally Dies?" by Jerry Del Colliano, on Home Theater Review. In it, the author justifies buying a new $3000 TV over repairing it for $600. This is a problem many of us have faced when an old piece of equipment fails, but the green answer is to repair it, although that is not the message in the article. I can agree that new TVs are more energy efficient and perhaps use less toxic materials, but the author says that replacing it is an  economically sound investment, encourages others to do the same and gives the following cost-benefit analysis:

"To feel better about saying goodbye to your old HDTV, do some simple math. What did you pay for your old set? (Yes, I really spent $4,500 on the old Panny; that's what they cost back then, and that was from the local distributor, not retail.) Then divide it by the number of years you owned it. I spent $4,500 plus $600 to repair the TV, and I sold it for $600 used. So, $4,500 divided into six years equals $750 per year or $62.50 per month. The set had lots of hours on it, so the cost per hour of enjoyment was pretty affordable. All in all, this HDTV not only provided me cutting-edge performance in the day but offered long-term value over its lifespan. Could I have kept it longer? Absolutely, and the amortization of the TV would have given me more and more value.... However, for $2,999, I was able to replace the old TV with a very thin, edge-lit LED from Samsung that was a whopping 15 inches larger and could cover the entire niche that I built. The new set had a 1080p resolution, came loaded with apps like CinemaNow and worked better in a room with more ambient light. The truth was that I needed a new HDTV, not a repair on an old one."

If I may correct the author, the new TV was a want and not a need - new features swayed his decision. More to the point, the math is overwhelmingly lop-sided. Owning the TV longer would have lowered the cost of ownership significantly below the $62.50 per month he paid for the old one, even if adding in the $600 to repair it. Now, that $2999 price tag for a new TV may not seem expensive to purchasers of HiFi, but a new TV isn't exactly HiFi, it's consumer electronics. That TV is mass-produced in a factory somewhere far away and the $62.50 per month is about the weekly wage of the person who assembled the TV, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (and those are official figures, assuming fair labor conditions).

The idea that someone should pay that much for a new TV every six years, and then encouraging others to do the same, is exemplary of a level of consumerism that is simply not sustainable when considering the waste that is produced therefrom. It justifies a lifestyle that encourages the regular replacement of refrigerators, cell phones, computers and cars as well. This amount of electronic waste is massive and excessively contributes to landfills the size of cities (such as this one in Guiyu, China), which are, ironically, located in the same countries that these TVs are assembled in.

At some point in the very near future the misery caused by this level of consumerism will inevitably float back to our own shores. So no, Mr. Del Colliano, I do not agree that this is a good idea. Even if that new TV is slightly better for the environment than your old one, the cost to the environment of this lifestyle is immeasurably greater.

- MichaelGJK

An interesting side note: I tried to post the same sentiments I made above in the comments section of this article, and within minutes my post was rejected. As a matter of fact, now the article won't even allow comments. I guess I wasn't the only one with concerns about the validity of the argument being made....

Update 05/08/13: Today, commenting was re-enabled so I posted the main point of my article there. I wonder how long it will stay up this time....