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Q & A: Energy Efficient TVs

By Diane MacEachern |
Find out which televisions pack the smallest environmental punch, and what to look for when shopping for a new one.
Originally Published: 12/16/09

Question: Which TV would be better for the environment: an LCD or a plasma screen? I have read all these horrible things about e-waste and want to pick one that is least likely to wreak further havoc on the planet.

According to the U.S. federal ENERGY STAR program, there are approximately 275 million TVs of all kinds currently in use in the United States. Regardless of whether you have an LCD, Plasma Screen or CRT (cathode ray tube, which most of us still watch), all contain hazardous chemicals that should not be dumped in a community landfill.

According to the U.S. federal ENERGY STAR program, there are approximately 275 million TVs of all kinds currently in use in the United States.

The best eco-practice is to extend the life of your television as long as possible, then recycle it during a local household hazardous waste collection or at the nearest hazardous waste facility. Before you buy new, check with your municipal solid waste office for specific recommendations they may have regarding plasma screens and LCD sets. LCDs contain some mercury and are manufactured using nitrogen fluoride, a potent greenhouse gas. Plasma screens can contain lead and other heavy metals. Find out what your waste managers can handle and make sure to follow their recycling recommendations.

But the recyclability of a television isn't the only factor. Televisions consume 4 percent of all household electricity, so it's no wonder that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it's also critical to consider the television's energy-efficiency.

A recent in-depth study by CNET found that, overall, LCDs are more energy-efficient per square inch than plasma TVs. Why? An LCD tv consumes power on a relatively constant basis, using it primarily to back light the screen. Plasma tvs move gas around to generate light, based on the brightness of the images being displayed. Plasma tvs use more energy to illuminate a bright image, and less when the image or scene is darker. This varying power demand reduces the energy efficiency of the plasma screen tv.

Consumer Reports has shown that a 42-inch plasma television costs as much as that of a 25 cubic-foot refrigerator; plasmas over 50 inches can consume approximately four times the energy of a CRT television.

What can you do to reduce energy use? The size of the screen directly affects the amount of power consumed. To purchase the most energy-efficient LCD TV, choose the smallest, lowest-resolution LCD you and your family can live with. Once you have your TV, be sure to turn it off when you're not watching it; don't leave it on for "background" all day. Additionally, use an energy-saving power strip for associated components like cable boxes, DVD players and videogame systems. That makes it easy to turn off ALL "vampire" drains on electricity with one switch of a button, reducing energy costs and consumption even more.

Before you buy, consult CNET's power consumption chart ratings as well as Energy Star specifications for televisions. Energy Star also provides a variety of resources to guide you in finding the most suitable and energy efficient TV for your home and budget.

Have you found a great energy-efficient TV? Share your thoughts and referrals below.

Diane MacEachern is the author of Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World, and a popular blog, Big Green Purse.

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