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Market Tastes Shift, So Do Amounts of Hazardous Waste

September 24, 2014

In 2014, you would be hard-pressed to find a home without a flat panel television. Not only do these new screens run on different technology than older projection tube televisions, they also have just as much, if not more, toxic elements within them.

In 2006, a ruling by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that the cathode ray tubes (CRT) inside projection televisions and computer monitors could skirt the definition of  solid waste upheld for decades by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to encourage more recycling and re-using of these tubes and to allow the electronics industry to turn old TVs into newer models. The danger is that the tubes in these TVs and monitors could each contain up to eight pounds of lead.

The EPA also stated in 2006 that at least 75% of the glass from these CRTs, which contains the toxic lead, must be recycled by smelters or industry recyclers to avoid breaking the existing law on speculative accumulation prohibition. And if this portion is not able to be recycled, these CRT TVs would be found to be fitting the definition of hazardous waste and would need to be sent to a specialized hazardous waste treatment facility.

Fast-forward to this year, when not many households own a cathode ray tube TV, especially after the switch from analog to digital was made by public broadcasting outlets in 2009, and state officials have found this waste stockpiled, secretly stowed away, and accumulating in dumping grounds from California to Maine. As market-demand for these TVs has sharply dropped off, they are managing to show up furtively by the thousands in landfills, dropped off in huge piles on long empty roads, or merely thrown out on alleyways across the nation. At least by December of 2012, a report issued by TransparentPlanet estimated that there is 660 million pounds of CRT glass waste improperly stored across the U.S. alone.

To combat this growing issue, and in the face of growing complaints against what was seen as lax enforcement, the EPA has this year amended its 2006 ruling to broaden and strengthen oversight of these recycling plants who process CRTs and wish to exempt themselves from the hazardous waste label that comes with them. Taking full effect on December 26th 2014, any company shipping this lead-contaminated glass out of the country for recycling, usually to Canada or Mexico, will have to face tighter regulation and control or be found in violation of federal law.

And it’s not that the newer, more svelte LCD screens are any less hazardous either, as they contain amounts of highly-toxic mercury, but states are not finding thousands of pounds of this type of electronic waste in their landfills. As when tastes in the economy begin to change again, when LCD televisions become obsolete and if we do not make precautions or take preemptive measures to dispose of them properly as with CRTs, we will surely have yet another problem on our hands.

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(Article contributed by Michael Manouel)

Photo Credit: mikecogh via Compfight cc

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