Got plans this weekend? If you’re like more than 3/4th of the country, you’ll be shoring up next to a screen with some snacks and a beverage (or two) to watch the largest non-holiday gathering of Americans for the year. But, hopefully, un-like the rest of the country, you won’t be stationed in front of a giant screen television that you purchased a day or two before the event just to watch this game. And, shame on you if you do what over half those people do a few days after the final touchdown was scored…
The biggest waste event of the year
The truth is, Super-Bowl Sunday is one of the worst days of the year for wastefulness. Every year, tens of thousands of television sets (the face of which being larger than anything else you have on your walls) are purchased cheaply, used to watch the game, stuffed back in their boxes, and returned to the stores from whence they came all in service of this single sporting event.
As if that routine weren’t bad enough, many of these gargantuan screens are so poorly repacked that they return damaged or completely broken. Even if we ignore the environmental cost to transport these devices from store to home to store again, there is still so much carbon being added to these individuals’ footprints that no amount of good choices for the remainder of the year will offset the damage done by that single choice; it’s a bad play.
Throwing away more than money
Football has become the most watched sporting event in America. The amount of money typical viewers fork over—even if they aren’t actually at the game—is shocking (and a little embarrassing when you consider what that money could do for any number of charitable causes). But there is even more being wasted than just dollar bills.
We touched on the environmental cost that goes into creating electronic devices in another post: water, precious minerals, carbon, worker hours, and fuel to transport the devices is just the beginning of what goes into bringing the products we use to our homes. Purchasing something as complicated as a large-screen television, then, has a significant footprint attached to it. So significant, in fact, that extending that device’s use over many years is the only thing that comes close to balancing the ledger. To use a screen only once—even if we intend to return that device—is nothing short of detestable.
The waste we’ve seen is terrifying
As these words come together for this post, there is something more that needs to be said: these are not empty statistics. Jill and Bob, the owners of Sage, have seen first-hand this level of horrific waste. While assisting a medium-sized distributor of large-screen televisions, Jill and Bob processed thousands of televisions in the week following the Super Bowl just a few years ago.
When I asked Jill about it, she shook her head in disgust at the wastefulness. “As I recall, large-screen TV returns were close to 80,000 a year just for the mid-level distributor we were processing for,” Jill told me, “and tens of thousands came in for February due to the Super Bowl!”
Think about that: a smaller distributor than Best Buy or Walmart received tens of thousands of television returns. The mind staggers at the number of actual televisions that are returned nation-wide! And of those returns, Jill continued, “tons of them were broken beyond repair or reuse.”
At its heart, this post is about the environmental ramifications of poor consumer choices, but I would be remiss not to mention the business cost for those distributors and manufacturers who have to eat the cost of recycling—because they typically don’t and that becomes an even bigger problem.
It’s another example of how our economy of consumerization is built on the back of externalized environmental costs. Recycling these televisions takes specialized equipment and—even when done correctly—can be extremely dangerous. This is a costly enterprise that doesn’t have anyone paying for it. And when that happens, responsible recycling just doesn’t get done; e-waste gets shipped off to some poor country where their border laws are like a weak defense.
Responsibility is the name of the game
As you’re watching the game—which we hope you do—watch for the drink ads. You’ll see at least one of them tell you to “drink responsibly.” And, when you hear that, be reminded that consuming alcohol is the same as consuming electronic devices—it requires responsibility. Consume responsibly, reuse intentionally, and recycle properly to ensure future generations have an opportunity to watch the Super Bowl with their family and friends.