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CRT's: The Computer and E-Scrap Recycler's Nightmare

Updated on February 6, 2012

The most problematic e-waste computer components to dispose of are Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT)s. These tubes formed the display units used in the monitors for most computers until flat panel LCD displays gained popularity. However, CRTs are hard to dispose of in an environmentally friendly manner.

For years, used monitors containing CRTs were simply placed in the dumpster or along the side of the road with other trash. Trash collectors would simply collect the monitors containing the CRTs in the truck along with the other trash, which would finally wind up in a land-fill.

The problem arises from lead leaching out of the CRTs and finding its way into the water supply. A typical CRT contains from two to eight pounds of lead depending on the type and size of the CRT.


CRT Refiners

Some refiners accept CRTs for the materials they contain. However, there are very specialized processes necessary to safely recover the materials from a CRT. Although a typical CRT contains between 3 Lbs and 8 Lbs of lead, much of that lead is embedded in the glass that forms the tube. Refiners do not extract the lead from the glass but remelt the glass to be used to manufacture more CRTs.

The shift in the display market toward flay-panel LCD and LED displays has led to lower demand for CRTs. Therefore, some CRT refiners are less willing to accept used CRTs unless the recycler pays the refiner a fee. Typical fees for used CRTs run around $50 and some refiners may require the whole monitor or TV, not just the CRT.

Many refiners that accept CRTs only accept them as part of a complete system. In other words, you need to supply the refiner with a computer and in turn, the refiner accepts the CRT. This provides an incentive to recycle the computer itself; these refiners may not have the facilities to extract the materials from CRTs but send them off to more specialized refiners.

The best policy is to check with refiners to determine what they accept and any restrictions involved. Special packing methods may be necessary to ship CRTs.

CRT Recoverable materials

Computer CRT monitors and TVs contain other materials besides the lead in the glass. The yoke that surrounds the CRT tube is made up of copper, which is a recyclable material. The amount of copper in the yoke depends on the size of the tube; larger tubes require larger yokes. The copper yoke may be removed from the tube and recycled at most any scrap metal yard. The power supply in the monitor or TV will also contain copper in the transformer, which may be removed and recycled at the scrap yard.

CRT Dissassembly

Taking a monitor apart is not a safe endeavor for an inexperienced recycler. The CRT may contain an extremely high voltage with the potential to harm the individual taking apart the CRT unless certain safety measures are followed; the tube must be discharged and evacuated. The best strategy for an e-scrap recycler is to avoid accepting used monitors or TVs if at all possible; the goal of the recycler is to recycle as much as possible with the least effort. CRTs are at best problematic to dispose of.


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