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Panasonic, Sharp Fend Off The ‘Undead’

New York — A group called the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC) was claiming credit Friday for forcing Thursday’s announcements of plans for a cooperative national recycling programming involving Panasonic, Sharp and Toshiba.

The group had planned to assemble a gathering of “zombies” representing the millions of old but still functioning “undead toxic TVs” in New York’s Times Square on Halloween “to alert passers-by to urge Panasonic and Sharp to establish national responsible recycling programs before the Feb. 17, 2009 digital conversion deadline.”

The two CE companies in their sights announced their recycling program along with Toshiba and Electronics Manufacturers Recycling Management (MRM) a day earlier.

The group said it posted an ad encouraging Panasonic to take back their old TVs Friday on the 26-foot CBS display screen — made by Panasonic — in the middle of Times Square.

The TV Zombie visit was part of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition’s (ETBC) ongoing “Take Back My TV” campaign to pressure TV manufacturers into creating responsible national programs to “take back” and recycle their old televisions, before the digital TV conversion.
The TV zombies also visited Panasonic’s New Jersey headquarters yesterday.

In a statement announcing the demonstration, ETBC said: “Upon hearing of the planned zombie visit to their headquarters, Panasonic and Sharp quietly released a statement yesterday morning announcing their intention to broaden their program in eight more states in November, and to offer a national program sometime in the next three years. Some of those eight states have laws requiring companies to offer recycling.”

“In the last 12 months Sony, Samsung, and LG have each launched national TV take back programs,” said Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the ETBC. “Now we want Panasonic and Sharp to offer take back programs in all 50 states before the digital conversion.”

“It’s a good step that they are finally saying that they will launch a national program, but they should really do it in the next three months, not in the next three years,” said Kyle. “They are going to wait until everyone has trashed their old TVs, and then start their national program? That’s not exactly environmental leadership.”

A representative from Panasonic took exception to the ETBC demands.
“If they will remember from working with them several years ago – and they would have remembered if they were truly the undead – [the MRM initiative] has been in the works a long time,” said Peter Fannon, Panasonic technology, government and regulatory policy VP. “It tries very hard, and successfully at responding not only to that TakeBack Coalition but to others who are responsible stakeholders, and there was nothing quiet about this announcement. If it were any louder it would have been on the Times Square billboards itself.”

Fannon said the MRM initiative “goes farther and hits sooner than almost anybody’s.”

Of the ETBC, he said, “They are not as helpful routinely as many other stakeholders are. We try to be as responsive to any question or comment that comes from the take back campaign or any others.”

Fannon said the national rollout of the MRM initiative “and others that will take longer” is extremely complex and our program seeks to use as many established and ongoing systems as possible. That is the responsible and environmentally clean way to do things. It makes no sense to create new truck rolls for collection and recycling where services currently exist and work very well.”

Panasonic points out that not only is it working with established systems that are already known well to local communities and filling in the gaps, it is “going well beyond TVs and handling all Panasonic branded [A/V] products with this program.”

According to a Sharp spokesman: “Sharp has been sponsoring recycling events since 2001. One of the reasons we partnered with Panasonic and Toshiba to form MRM was to develop a program that would allow manufacturers to provide convenient and cost effective recycling opportunities. The program MRM is developing is available to all electronics manufacturers to support our objective of providing responsible recycling that is convenient to the consumer.
“At the scheduled MRM board meeting on October 29th, the board voted to allocate the necessary resources to develop a national infrastructure.  Once MRM was committed to this development we were pleased to announce our eagerness to offer this program.”
Kyle told TWICE the group focused this effort on Panasonic and Sharp because: “Our emphasis is getting the TV companies to launch responsible and meaningful takeback programs before the digital conversion in Feb. Panasonic and Sharp have a much bigger market share in TVs than Toshiba has. Plus they have been the most active in ducking their responsibility, lobbying against legislation, etc.”

 She said that the group would “like to see Panasonic offer a national takeback program, sooner than later. They are saying that they will have national coverage in 3 years. But that’s so long after the digital conversion deadline. They shouldn’t wait until everyone has already trashed their TVs. The time for this is now.”

As for Fannon’s charge that the ETBC has been inflexible, Kyle said: “Let’s look at the history here. The digital conversion didn’t just suddenly get announced. It’s been in the works for a long time. Companies like Panasonic and Sharp (and Philips) have spent years fighting taking any responsibility for their products. They have lobbied against these laws in states across the country as well as federally. So it’s unfortunate that it took them until earlier this year to finally give up their strategy of making consumers pay for recycling. They could have been working on getting ready for the digital conversion.”

 ETBC said it has also launched a new video which stars “UndeadToxic TV Zombies” rising out of the landfills, illustrating the need for responsible recycling programs for old TVs—especially as next February’s digital conversion approaches. Experts predict that, without such programs, millions of still-working TVs could be dumped in landfills or exported to digital dumps in China, India, and countries in Africa, where workers disassemble them by hand, exposing them and their entire communities to the high amounts of toxic metals that are inside every TV.

The Electronics TakeBack Coalition said it is “taking on the issue of e-waste on many fronts.”

In mid-November, the Coalition will publish a new TV Takeback Report Card, grading the TV companies on their recycling efforts to educate consumers in time for the holiday buying season. Also, on the legislative side, the ETBC is urging Congress to ban the exportation of toxic e-waste to developing countries.