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Your Flat Screen TV and E-Waste

Nov 15th 2012 at 10:57 PM

Expanding the research and development of electronics has an unfortunate downside. According to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, seventy per cent of all heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury in landfills in the United States comes from electronic waste. This is despite the fact that electronic waste makes up only two per cent of the total waste volume. Worldwide, twenty to fifty million metric tonnes of electronic waste or "e-waste" is generated each year.

Determining the precise environmental effects from e-waste can be difficult, but given the known detrimental consequences of heavy metals, this does not bode well for environmental conditions. Some of the most popular electronics products today are flat screen televisions. Many flat screen TVs are lit from behind with fluorescent light bulbs, which contain mercury. In addition, the flat screen liquid crystal display or LCD itself can contain toxic materials, such as arsenic, a well-known poisonous substance.

Publicizing these facts has apparently done little to awaken consumers to the advantages of recycling, which eliminates heavy metal build-up in landfills. In the United Kingdom, an estimated one million tonnes of e-waste are generated per year. Unfortunately, according to a survey by computer manufacturer Dell, the UK has the lowest electronic waste recycling rate in Western Europe.

Fortunately, there are things that consumers can do to "green" their flat screen televisions. Most major LCD manufacturers have begun switching to light-emitting diodes or LEDs to light their LCD displays. LEDs have their toxic materials as well, however. A solution invented by two Israeli scientists at Tel Aviv University may soon remove this problem for LEDs permanently.

Using nanotechnology, Nadav Amdursky and Gil Rosenman are "growing" their own lights using self-assembled peptide nanotubes. The chemistry of these organic lights is based on carbon, making them much more environmentally-friendly. The reason for this is that the material they invented is essentially biological. Unlike conventional engineered LEDs, their LEDs have a nano-based architecture, which makes them easy to integrate into existing technology at minimal cost. The light generated is virtually indistinguishable from the light emitted by other LEDs.

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