Wasteful Regulation

The issue of “e-waste” has been receiving a lot of attention recently, mostly from critics concerned about discarded electronics being shipped off to developing countries for disposal (conveniently ignoring the positive business opportunities in surplus materials), yet environmentalists need to look no farther than their own government for contributing to this “problem.”

This past Saturday, June 13, 2009, all television stations in the United States began broadcasting in digital television (DTV), switching from the previous method of analog broadcasting as mandated by the federal government. The reasoning behind this switch, according to the DTV.gov website, was “to offer improved picture and sound quality,” as well as freeing up the airways for public safety communications.

In an attempt to soften the effects of this regulation, the government had the idea of offering $40 coupons to offset the costs of a converter box (which can run up to $80) that would be necessary for older televisions to continue to function. However, as of January 4, 2009, more than five months before the switch, the government had already run out of coupons. Estimates suggest that 1 in 4 households will dispose of a TV, many of them in perfect working condition, due to the switch to DTV.

The common theme here is regulation, regulation, regulation. Environmentalists are pushing for the U.S. to ratify the Basel Convention, a document preventing e-waste transfers to other countries, yet they have federal DTV regulation to add to the amount of used electronics. Glad to see all that legislation is working out for them.

Image source: Utah Dept. of Environmental Quality.