Glass tsunami threatens e-waste recyclers

A glass tsunami is threatening electronics recycling companies as the market for CRTs dries up. The New York Times reports that a few years ago glass from broken monitors and TVs could be recycled profitably, with the glass fetching $200 per ton. But the emergence of flat-panel technology has left many recyclers over their heads in useless, toxic material. Now, they have to pay $200 per ton to get the glass off their hands.

The Times article quotes Jason Linnell of the Electronics Recycling Coordination Clearinghouse as saying smaller recyclers might abandon their stockpiles.

As the Times puts it, “A little over a decade ago, there were at least 12 plants in the United States and 13 more worldwide that were taking these old televisions and monitors and using the cathode ray tube glass to produce new tubes. But now, there are only two plants in India doing this work.”

According to a scrap-metal industry estimate, the amount of electronic waste has more than doubled over the past five years, exacerbated by millions of people ditching their analog TVs after broadcasters turned off their analog signals.

The group TransparentPlanet is pessimistic about the situation. In a blog post titled “WV Leads the Way in Dooming the Future of US e-Recycling and the Environment,” the organization notes, “The same day the New York Times featured a front page article entitled “A Growing Hazard: Piles of Old Electronic Gear,” the West Virginia Senate threw in the towel saying it was too costly to recycle scrap electronics so land-filling would be the better option.”

Here is an interesting fact from the Times article: “The federal government, which is among the world’s largest producer of electronic waste, disposes more than 10,000 computers a week on average.”

The Times reports that some recyclers say money can still be made from old CRTs, but companies who engage in “greenwashing” are hindering progress.

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