A government scheme to recycle thousands of unwanted televsions has been dismissed as a gimmick.

Environment Minister Nick Smith today launched the Great TV Takeback programme, in which people can dispose of their old TVs for free at The Warehouse until October 4.

Dr Smith said low-cost TVs and the impending switch from analogue to digital television were creating a surge in unwanted sets, and the programme would enable 96 per cent of the material in the sets to be recycled.

But Labour environment spokesman Charles Chauvel said the programme was just a drop in the bucket of what was needed to combat e-waste.

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"I visited a recycling centre last Friday which can't afford to stockpile any more analogue TVs above the piles and piles of them it has now collected. It is now turning them away and they are headed to landfills thanks to Nick Smith's failure to fulfil one of his basic responsibilities as environment minister.''

Mr Chauvel said incorporating a small levy into the price of new TVs would pay retailers to offer a recycling service to shoppers.

"When people buy new gear, they drop their old gear off, and it would be recycled,'' Mr Chauvel said.

"This would be a permanent scheme applicable to all retailers to cope with the flood of lead and heavy metals now going to landfill, rather than a two-week ministerial gimmick in which only one outlet participates.''