By Kim Robson:
Walk into any electronics retailer, and you’ll find that flat screens have taken over. No one sells TVs or computers with those big, clunky, heavy cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors anymore. Due to attrition, there’s a glut of old CRTs entering the e-waste stream, and there are too few ways to recycle them.
CRT technology required very thick, shatter-resistant glass. When households replace these old CRT units with sleek, efficient flat screens, hundreds of millions of pounds of unwanted CRT glass end up at landfills. Other than being recycled into more CRT glass (which is no longer in demand), this potential resource becomes a waste item. How many times have you seen an old TV sitting by the side of a road or alley? Goodwill won’t even take them. You certainly can’t just toss a TV out the window. Most are ending up in landfills.
What’s the reason? Glass is eminently recyclable, right? Unfortunately, there is no market for the tons of glass from CRTs because it is full of lead to keep those rays inside the tube. West Virginia even changed the law so that TVs could once again be dumped into landfills. According to NBC, “There really isn’t a viable option for recycling CRT TVs, at least in the state of West Virginia,” said a Kanawha County waste agency executive. “Kanawha County is home to Charleston, the largest city in the state. It costs the city about $40 a pound to process a ton of trash, a cost that skyrockets to $360 a pound for electronics waste. Many small towns in the county are unable to cope with the cost of recycling. And with few companies and no landfills willing to take CRT TVs, residents sometimes just leave their old sets on the side of the road.”
Best Buy used to take back e-waste, including TVs, but has had to start charging customers $25 a box. “Our goal has always been to simply break even on our recycling program, and we’re not there today,” the company said in a statement. “The new fees will help cover the increasing cost of managing TV and monitor disposal through our network of stores, distribution centers and recycling partners.”
There is hope, however: Fireclay Tile makes glass tiles out of old CRT glass. The innovative ceramic tile company focuses on the use of recycled materials in their products, giving CRT glass a second life as a sustainable interior design element. Because of the amount of lead that is trapped in the glass, it could be used to make glass bricks for houses near nuclear plants or in radiation-intensive areas of hospitals.
Fireclay Tile was already producing decorative and architectural tiles from recycled materials and unprocessed stoneware clays, so turning to CRT glass as a potential material wasn’t so much of a stretch, at least on paper. Developing a process to get the glass from monitor to finished tile wasn’t without challenges, though, including the need to enlist an electronics recycler to remove the glass panels from their housing in order to start the process of crushing and sorting the material.
Now, Fireclay is looking to crowdfund its newest product through a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the purchase of the molds necessary to bring these recycled CRT glass tiles to market. The finished tiles aren’t colored, but retain their natural gray tone, called Phosphor. The new tiles will be available in 2×8, 2×4, and penny-round mosaic sizes. These recycled tiles can be used for both indoor and outdoor installations, including commercial applications, and could be the perfect accent in a green home remodel. Kickstarter backers at the $25 and up level will get a set of recycled CRT glass tile coasters, and larger pledges will receive a complete backsplash for their next home improvement project.
There’s still a long way to go, with millions of old CRT televisions forgotten in basements and garages everywhere. In 2015, Americans had an estimated 5 billion pounds of CRT TVs and monitors in their homes, according to a survey from the Electronics Recycling Coordination Clearinghouse (ERCC), a pro-recycling nonprofit organization. “It’s a long-lasting technology,” said Jason Linnell, executive director of the ERCC. “Not only can CRT TVs last for 20 to 30 years, they are also extremely heavy, so people tend to procrastinate when it comes to getting rid of them.”