At R3EWaste, our commitment is to keep electronic waste out of landfills. Primarily, this takes the form of partnering with companies to help them manage their electronic waste stream responsibly, but R3EWaste is also proud to be one of only a few recyclers in the valley that manages residential electronic waste, including TVs.
R3EWaste is deeply committed to high-quality customer service for all of our clients, residential or commercial. With that in mind, one question we find ourselves answering frequently is this:
Why is there a recycling fee for TVs?
So today I wanted to take a little time to provide some background information which I hope will help answer that question satisfactorily.
TVs contain hazardous waste.
Remember the bulky old TVs of your childhood? Big, boxy, and an absolute nightmare to move from one corner of the living room to another? Maybe you got rid of yours a long time ago, or maybe you’re still using one, but the fact remains that these old TVs have become outdated.
These TVs are called CRTs, which stands for Cathode Ray Tube, more commonly known as ‘Tube’ TVs. And besides their general size and weight, it is this tube that makes CRT TVs so complicated to recycle.
The EPA considers these tubes to be hazardous waste because they contain leaded glass and phosphor powder, both of which are highly hazardous to human health and the environment. Furthermore, the tube itself is actually vacuum sealed, which means these TVs must always be handled with caution. Aside from the tube, some of the very old CRTs were even made with lead in their circuitry.
When we recycle these TVs, we first break them down into parts - plastic, non-leaded glass, circuitry, and the leaded glass tube. These tubes get packed up and shipped on to a company that handles them from there, smelting down the glass and removing the lead. R3EWaste is charged by the pound for this service, and you may have noticed, your CRT TVs get heavy.
Greenbiz.com reported in 2012 that, "where recyclers used to earn $205 per ton recycling CRT glass in 2004, they must now pay $200 per ton, a net loss in value of $405/ton in eight years.” The situation has continued to deteriorate from there. The old Tube TVs have been replaced, you may have noticed, by the newer, flat screen model TVs. The flat screen allows these TVs to get much much bigger than the CRT ever could, the end result of which is that they are also very heavy and require careful handling.
Inside your flat screen TV are a series of long thin mercury bulbs. When broken, these bulbs pose a real threat to the health and safety of those who come into contact with them, if the proper measures are not taken, and to the environment, if they are not recycled appropriately. We dismantle these TVs and ship the mercury bulbs to a company who has the ability to retort mercury (a complicated process which I honestly don’t really understand, but you can try the link if you’re interested!).
The other kind of TV we recycle regularly is the DLP or Projection TV. These TVs can also be quite large and cumbersome and contain Ethylene Glycol and Mercury, both of which are potential hazards.
TVs have long since ceased to serve as sources of revenue for recycling companies. The internal costs associated with transporting, handling, and dismantling them, combined with the specialized processes required to treat their specific hazardous materials, makes them a major economic endeavor for any recycling company who wishes to dispose of them properly. In fact, many electronic recyclers refuse to handle TVs from residences at all, and R3EWaste is just about the only company left in the Valley that will handle residential CRTs. We strongly feel that it is an important service to be able to provide the community, due to the environmental hazards associated with improper handling of these types of TVs, and we are committed to continuing to offer an outlet for these devices.
I mentioned earlier that CRTs are regulated by the EPA as hazardous wastes. This means that special EPA permissions and notifications must be attained in order to ship them out of the United States, and companies are also prohibited from ‘stockpiling’ CRTs. Stockpiling refers to the collection of CRT devices (both TVs and computer monitors) for more than 12 months without shipping them out. In order to avoid stockpiling CRTs, for every 100 units taken in, 75 must be shipped out within 12 months. This ensures that the companies who take in CRTs have an actionable plan in place for their disposal.
These measures are in place partly because CRT recycling has come to be associated with the actions of disreputable companies.
Global Environmental Services admitted to charging customers recycling fees, digging a big hole (10 feet by 30 feet) in the ground 100 yards away from their site and then filling it with CRTs. Luckily, they were discovered.
Creative Recycling Systems held the previous record for largest CRT Stockpile in the US - 30 million pounds spread across locations in 6 states. But they are about to lose their title. Closed Loop Refining and Recycling, estimates suggest, has 90 million tons between locations in Arizona and Ohio. Closed Loop is behind on rent in both states, and an Ohio judge recently ruled in favor of their unfortunate landlord.
It is important when recycling your electronics, to ask your recycler about their certifications. If you still don’t feel comfortable ask the company for more information about what they do with the material. Certification bodies like SERI and BAN have online registries where you can double check the validity of your recycler’s certification claims.The decision to recycle your old television does have associated costs, for you, the owner of the TV and for the recycler. But we believe that recycling these potentially hazardous devices properly is worth the financial burden, and we hope you will too.