Consumer Electronics and Recycling Industries Announce the Winners of the Second Recycling CRT Glass Challenge

During a session yesterday at the E-Scrap Conference, the Consumer Electronics Association(CEA)®, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI)®, and InnoCentive, the pioneer in crowdsourcing and open innovation, announced the winners of the second “CRT Challenge” to develop compelling economic and environmentally preferable solutions for recycling old cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions and monitors. The winning solution proposed using recycled CRT glass as a component for vitrification of nuclear waste. Vitrification involves the melting of nuclear waste materials with glass-forming additives so that the final vitreous product incorporates the waste contaminants.

There are significant volumes of nuclear waste currently planned to be vitrified, especially in the U.S. Dr. Thomas Engelhardt, who is a senior executive advisor to a major international investment fund and holds a doctoral degree in physical chemistry, developed the proposal. His graduate and postgraduate studies at various international research facilities have focused on the characterization of molecular liquids with X-ray, neutron and EXAFS spectroscopy. Dr. Engelhardt will receive a $10,000 award for his CRT Challenge solution.

The runner-up proposed a two-step solution: (1) conducting an extensive literature review on manufacturing processes for using CRT-related waste glass, including cost analysis (raw materials transport) and the impact on the environment; and, (2) creating an approach for developing a property/composition model for using CRT glass waste forms to treat nuclear wastes, by making chemical durable borosilicate glasses geologically stable. Dr. Mariano Velez, a senior research engineer at Mo-Sci Corp., will receive $5,000 for the runner-up solution. Dr. Velez holds a Ph.D. in ceramic engineering and has conducted glass research for more than 30 years, focusing on glasses with very high chemical durability, glass-reinforced polymer composites, materials manufacturing, design and properties optimization, use of nanoparticles and nanofibers, and evaluation of recycled and waste materials.

“These award-winning ideas are the latest step in determining how to responsibly recycle billions of pounds of lead-heavy CRT glass as consumers switch from CRT electronics to liquid crystal, light-emitting diode (LED) and plasma displays,” said Walter Alcorn, CEA vice president for environmental affairs and industry sustainability. “We applaud the winners and thank everyone who participated. CEA will continue to work with government agencies, manufacturers, retailers and recyclers to explore these and other emerging solutions throughout the industry.”

“The innovative solutions provided by the CRT Challenge present a great opportunity to expand and develop new markets for recycled CRT glass and help recyclers as the industry transitions from CRTs to newer display technologies,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “We applaud the winners and all those who participated, and thank CEA for their partnership in addressing this critical issue in the recycling industry.”

“It’s gratifying to see CEA and ISRI banding together to find more effective ways to recycle cathode ray tubes, some of the biggest offenders when it comes to the growing e-waste issue in America,” said Alpheus Bingham, Ph.D., founder and board member of InnoCentive. “The most recent CRT Challenge, as well as the winning responses, are a testament to the power of crowdsourcing solutions to difficult environmental problems. We look forward to following the progress of these proposed new approaches.”

CEA and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) sponsored the first CRT Challenge in 2011, and it yielded three winners. Mario Rosato proposed a closed-loop process for separating lead from glass in a form with high market value for a variety of industries. Nulife Glass Processing Ltd. proposed a solution that utilizes an extremely energy efficient electrically heated furnace, uniquely designed to produce minimal emissions; and operates these furnaces in New York and the UK. The third winner was Robert Kirby, who submitted an idea for combining CRT glass with cement to create tile and bricks that are tested, labeled and sold specifically for applications where lead shielding is required, such as X-ray and fluoroscopy rooms.

CEA and ISRI will work with the winners of this year’s CRT Challenge to further understanding of these solutions among CRT stakeholders, with the goals of raising awareness, helping to create market demand for used CRT glass, and encouraging government consideration of these approaches.

EPA Releases Updated FAQ on Cathode Ray Tubes

The EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery is pleased to announce the release of an updated set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the existing cathode ray tube (CRT) regulation. This set of FAQs includes both new and updated questions that have been added to the original set of CRT FAQs that were released April 2013.   EPA first published the CRT FAQs to assist entities that collect, manage, and recycle used CRTs and CRT glass with understanding the federal regulations that apply to these materials.

Several specific updates include:

(1) What RCRA requirements apply to CRT panel glass (which generally does not fail TCLP), and

(2) What it means for a person to “show that the material is potentially recyclable and has a feasible means of being recycled” under the speculative accumulation provision.

For additional information about this FAQ and CRT recycling, please contact ISRI staff Eric Harris, director of government and international affairs,  at 202-662-8514 and David Wagger, director of environmental management, at 202-662-8533.

Electronics recycling in Alaska begins emptying basements and attics

In mid September, the city and borough of Juneau, Alaska held a large, free community electronics recycling drive.

Public works director Kirk Duncan said residents streamed steadily through the dropoff site, bringing in electronics they’d had stockpiled for years and sometimes decades.

“We saw some stuff that I hadn’t seen in a long time,” Duncan told KTOO Public Radio 104.3. “Some original Apple computers, the one piece computers, then some huge TVs – just all kinds of different stuff.”

In all, the trial event collected 15 tons of material.

What results like this prove is something that electronics recyclers have known for a long time – American stockpile obsolete electronics because they don’t know what to do with them. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2009, an estimated five million short tons of products were in storage, with CRTs (monitors & TVs) being stored at the highest rates.

These events target that crucial residential sector – consumers, according to the International Data Corporation, comprise most of the new electronics industry but only 25% of the electronics recycling industry.

We have a general idea that throwing out old electronics is a bad idea. Perhaps it’s an acknowledgement that such items don’t belong in landfills, or the mentality that many products, once so expensive, must retain some value when they reach the end of usefulness.  Still other people don’t know how to handle old electronics, which doesn’t fit in the trash can and won’t be picked up by sanitation workers if it’s left at the curb.

And so the old TV goes into the attic or the basement, where it sits for a while. Sometimes it’s joined by an old computer monitor or an old computer tower, and then, after a while, another TV set.

Finally, after a while, the average American household has developed a sort of private e-scrap stockpile, gathering dust and taking up space. While many retailers operate voluntary recycling drop-off programs, they often must charge for data removal or for CRTs. So, when a free government-sponsored collection is announced, it’s understandable why all of these electronics start coming out of the wood works.

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Clearing up the CRT rules

The proposed changes to rules governing the recycling of Cathode Ray Tubes were a topic of hot conversation in Las Vegas last month.

William Damico, a Region 5 EPA Enforcement Officer, spoke at the recent Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries’ annual Convention and Expo in Las Vegas, hoping to offer the EPA’s viewpoints on the rule and to clear up any confusion on what the government agency is trying to accomplish by revising its regulations.

The electronics recycling industry is currently operating under a CRT rule passed on July 28, 2006.

“There was a misconception that the rule brought the cathode ray and other monitor tube devices in the realm of regulation of hazordous waste,” Damico said. “Actually, they always were. We weren’t very active in enforcing those rules.”

The rule didn’t clearly address many of the realities of exporting CRTs for recycling, Damico said.. A revision by the EPA in 2011 hopes to clarify the government’s position on management of the materials and how the EPA plans to enforce the regulation.

“CRTs are a limited commodity, not going to be with us forever and it’s possible the market will disappear before amount of CRT disappears,” Mark Murray, Californians Against Waste. “It’s not just about CRTs, it’s about other hazardous materials we can use in this way.”

In order for others to utilize those recyclable items, it’s a must for recyclers to dismantle the product before shipping it out of the United States’ borders, Murray said. He noted his organization is supporting barring the trans-state shipping of non-dismantled CRTs for recycling.

“The recycler won’t get paid unless they’ve demonstrated they’ve dismantled the device or demonstrate sending to an approved dismantler.”

If that isn’t done, some recyclers may just hold on to those items for an infinite amount of time and, if enough stack up enough, they might be on the next episode of A&E’s “Hoarders.”

Leaded glass found in the CRTs must be included in the recycling loop, but the markets for the material are drying up. Prices have declined drastically in recent years, said David Cauchy of Closed Loop Recycling.

“It’s a significant change economically,” Cauchy said. “The market hasn’t adjusted to it, in my opinion. It’s a serious issue, when you talk about the tonnage that’s available and the technologies that are available to recycle it. It’s a serious issue in the e-waste industry.”

Cauchi said the CRTs need to be recycled as a whole and not just end up a fodder for a landfill.

“We feel there should be places where CRTs are processed in their entirety and make a profit at that facility so it could compete with landfills,” he said.

EPA’s proposal to impose additional notification requirements on exporters handling used, intact CRTs intended for re-use raises jurisdictional issues, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.  Despite RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) jurisdiction being limited to materials that have been “discarded,” the proposal intends to expand EPA’s reach to also cover used, functioning CRTs exported for reuse.  The rationale is based on the grounds that the export of such used products might actually be intended for some purpose other than re-use and therefore raising a concern that the CRT’s might be improperly discarded at a future date and place.  This assertion is contrary to US law as RCRA’s jurisdiction does not extend to reusable CRTs, especially functional units, ISRI says.

EPA considering new rules for CRT glass recycling

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering a new rule it says will help it better track of cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors and televisions exported for recycling and reuse.

“When used CRTs are exported for recycling or reuse, there may be several persons involved from the time that a decision is made to export these materials up to the time that the actual export occurs. The trade in used electronics can take place along a chain of businesses that collect, refurbish, dismantle, recycle, and reprocess used electronic products and their components,” the EPA states in its proposed change of regulations, available here.

James Levine, President of Regency Technologies in Cleveland, says the new law aims to make recyclers throughout the export chain more accountable for the handling of these materials, not just the primary exporter as is currently the case.

“The EPA is trying to make people more accountable a few more levels down the line,” Levine says.

The proposal defines exporters of CRTs as “any person in the United States who initiates a transaction to send used CRTs outside the United States or its territories for recycling or reuse, or any intermediary in the United States arranging for such export.’’

Under current law, exporters of CRTs must notify the EPA of an intended shipment 60 days before the shipment occurs. Notifications may cover exports extending over a 12-month or shorter period. This notification includes information about the exporting recycler, the importing recycler and the frequency and estimated quantity to be shipped, and which countries the material will pass through on its way to its final destination.

The EPA then it notifies the receiving country and any transit countries. When the receiving country consents in writing to receive the CRTs, EPA forwards an Acknowledgement of Consent (AOC) to the exporter. The exporter may not ship the CRTs until he receives the AOC. Under these rules, exporters are not required to tell the EPA how much was actually exported in a given year.

The new rules proposed would require annual reports from all parties defined as exporters. These reports must provide basic information abot the business and the total quantities actually shipped for recycling, the frequency of shipment and the ultimate destination of the exported materials. This, the EPA says, will help determine that the CRTs are handled as commodities and not waste.

A new rule will also subject CRTs sent for reuse will be to similar notifications and requirements.

“The Agency has become aware that some CRTs allegedly exported for reuse are actually recycled in the receiving country, sometimes under unsafe conditions. Failure to file the notice required for CRTs sent for recycling deprives the Agency of its ability to notify the receiving country about the CRTs to be imported,” according to the EPA.

This new requirement for reporting would help prevent that, the EPA says.

EPA’s proposal to impose additional notification requirements on exporters handling used, intact CRTs intended for re-use raises jurisdictional issues, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.  Despite RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) jurisdiction being limited to materials that have been “discarded,” the proposal intends to expand EPA’s reach to also cover used, functioning CRTs exported for reuse.  The rationale is based on the grounds that the export of such used products might actually be intended for some purpose other than re-use and therefore raising a concern that the CRT’s might be improperly discarded at a future date and place.  This assertion is contrary to US law as RCRA’s jurisdiction does not extend to reusable CRTs, especially functional units.

The challenge of CRT glass recycling

Most American households have at least one older style Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) television or computer monitor somewhere in the home, basement or garage. With an estimated 180 million obsolete electronic products stored in American homes, it’s fair to say that a good proportion of those materials sitting about are CRTs.

CRTs are tricky to handle – they’re heavy, they’re bulky and from a recycling standpoint, there isn’t much value in them when compared to, say, a pile of old mobile phones or laptops of similar weight.

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“The CRT landscape is a kaleidoscope,” says Jim Levine, President of Regency Technologies in Cleveland. “The situation is fluid and can look very different depending on your vantage point. It’s a very visible and polarizing topic that has become a “symbol” of our industry– these products are big, they’re bulky and everyone is looking for solutions.”

CRT units are first dismantled, and any wiring, metal housings, plastics and circuit boards are set aside for further recycling. Whole CRT Tubes are moved on for further recycling.

The most popular recycling use for CRT glass was making it into new CRT glass, a solution known as glass-to-glass recycling. However, as new technologies like plasma, LCD, LED and 3-D displays take hold in the marketplace, demand for old CRT glass is drying up. Indeed, many of the companies that used to recycle CRT glass in the U.S. have closed shop. That has led recyclers to seek creative solutions to the problem, in methods akin to a modern-day alchemy.

“Everyone is looking for the golden solution to the problem,” Levine says. Levine’s company, Regency Technologies, signed an agreement with Dlubak Glass Company in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, the largest of the American recyclers of CRT glass, to introduce new strategies for handling the material.

Regency has a site on Dlubak’s campus, where Regency’s 50 employees demanufacture the collected CRT units and harvest the recyclable plastic, wires and metals. The glass moves down a conveyor belt, through a partition to Dlubak’s side of the facility where CRT glass is separated via a proprietary cutting process and prepared as furnace ready cullet for a wide array of finished products, serving many industries right here in North America.

“While a lot of the focus for recycling CRT glass is on compliance and regulation, it’s economics that prevent many companies from recycling the material. There are domestic solutions available right now and right here in the U.S., but many are choosing to store material with the hope that a solution might come along that does not carry a significant cost. This is a risky game to play and it goes against all of the basic tenets of recycling that our industry is trying so desperately to adhere to.”