LCD versus CRT versus Plasma TVs

G Magazine

If you're in the market for a new televison, how do you know which one is best for the environment?


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What do you do in your spare time? If you're like most of Australia you probably guiltily admit that you watch a lot of TV.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a staggering 3/4 of our spare time is spent crashed out in front of one of two sets of tellies we own.

The world stock of TVs currently estimated at two billion. And so it's a sensible question to ask, what is the environmental impact of watching telly?

And which of the televisions available, out of plasma screen, LCD (liquid crystal display) and conventional cathode ray tube (CRT) TV, is better for the environment?

Switching on

By far the biggest environmental impact of televisions comes as you watch them.

According to a report prepared by Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for the European Union, as much as eight times more energy is used watching your TV over its lifetime as was used in extracting the raw materials and assembling them into a television.

It therefore becomes very important that your telly is energy efficient when it is switched on.

Technology wars

In general terms, CRT televisions are more energy efficient than LCDs, which in turn are more efficient than plasma.

However, actual energy usage varies widely from brand to brand, says Lloyd Harrington, of Energy Efficient Strategies Australia (EES).

"Some plasma screens may use low energy, some high [energy], and the same for LCD and even cathode tube. It's a myth, for example, that all LCDs are more efficient than all plasmas."

To help consumers choose a better TV, the federal government is looking to introduce a star rating for the efficiency of televisions some time in 2009.

Size matters

One of the big issues with newer TVs is that they're getting more gigantic all the time. But the bigger the TV, the bigger the environmental impact.

And unfortunately it's not a simple case of double the screen size, double the energy.

The Fraunhofer Institute says that a 46-inch LCD screen uses three times the energy of a 23-inch screen.

Stand-by mode

According to a 2006 report by EES, 40 per cent of Australians leave their TV in stand-by mode.

The trouble is that when they're on stand-by, the TV is still using electricity. Some television sets use as much as 19.7 watts while they're waiting to be turned on.

That's like leaving a compact fluorescent light globe running all day and night.

While the federal government is insisting that all TVs should use less than 1 Watt in stand-by mode by 2012, the simple step to take today is to turn off the TV with the button on the set, instead of by remote.

When your TV dies

With an average life of around 60,000 hours, a plasma or an LCD TV should last you at least as long as your old CRT TV.

But, no matter what type of TV you have, you still have to dispose of it.

Unfortunately, some plastic components of television sets contain potentially toxic flame retardants known as deca-brominated diphenyl ethers (deca-BDEs), according to The Green Guide Institute, an independent research and information organisation for consumers based in New York.

"Beyond flame retardants, heavy metals like neuro-toxic lead and mercury as well as carcinogenic chromium and cadmium can leach into the environment when machines end up in landfills."

TV monitors with cathode ray tubes have the most lead, while plasmas have some and LCDs less.

The Consumer Electronics Suppliers' Association (CESA) has formed a not-for-profit company called Product Stewardship Australia to promote and manage environmentally-sound disposal and recycling of TVs in the future.

Meanwhile, try recycling your own TV by giving it to someone who will use it. Or contact your council to see if they have any program for salvaging parts.


Stick with your old CRT telly for as long as you can.

And when you've finished watching for the night, get up off the couch and switch it off with the button on the set, instead of by remote.