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Friday, February 27, 2009

Digital trash for all

One of the changes headed for the SA broadcast market is the switchover from an analogue to a digital TV transmission signal. This is in keeping with similar changes being made worldwide, and helps free up spectrum for other uses (as digitally encoded signals use less spectrum than analogue ones). As is typical with anything involving technology regulation in this country, the swapover has seen numerous delays. According to MyBroadband, the powers-that-be are currently aiming for an initial commercial launch near the end of the year.

This swap-over, along with the eventual discontinuation of the analogue signal, is likely to drive an increase in the sale of digital TVs. Downconverting set-top-boxes will be available, and will be partially subsidised by the government, but I would expect many households that have been avoiding the expense will see this as an excuse to upgrade to an LCD TV while they still have a perfectly serviceable CRT.

This is good news for the environment from from an energy point of view (if they go for a similarly sized set) due to the higher energy efficiency of LCD sets. However it has huge implications from a waste point of view. A culture of recycling and responsible personal waste management is seriously lacking in South Africa, and a lack of public education on the subject does not help. I have seen no mention in any of the articles relating to this swap-over on how the resulting e-waste will be handled. As it is finding a nearby location to do basic plastic, paper and metal recycling can be a challenge, and most people don’t bother. I would like to see the government using this change in technology as an opportunity to educate individuals on the importance of correctly disposing of old electronic equipment (which typically contains many toxic materials).

America is about to go through the same switch switch and faces similar issues as a result (see this article on Grist), however they seem to have at least taken some steps in the right direction. Their Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides excellent information on recycling e-waste and events were held to inform the public about the problem. In amongst all the electioneering and political posturing, I would really love to see a little bit of attention on this looming issue from the individuals tasked with managing our country.



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