CRT demanufacturing receives high-tech help
by Mike Breslin
Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) have been
around since the dawn of television.
They managed to smoothly transition
to computers as monitors, and to
date, billions of CRTs have been
manufactured. However, they are now
being rapidly supplanted by flat-screen
liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and
plasmas. The latest generation CRTs
offer superb image quality, but they
are big, heavy and deep, because
the larger the screen size, the longer
The fall of the CRT has also been
affected by the transition from analog
to digital broadcasting that has
sped the sale of DTV-ready LCDs.
As a result, tens of millions of
old television and computer monitors
need to be handled – not go into
landfills and not be exported as
whole units to countries where unsound
practices expose workers and the
environment to toxic substances such
as lead, mercury, cadmium and PCBs.
Depending on screen size, a CRT can
contain several pounds of lead and
interior phosphor coatings sealed
in a vacuum tube.
Steve Fuelberth, CEO of Luminous
Recycling in Denver, explained his
state’s dilemma, “In Colorado, residential
electronics are not banned from landfills,
but we are working on regulations
to stop it. If a business tries to
put electronics in trash, it is considered
hazardous waste – it cannot be sent
to our landfills and a fee must be
paid for proper disposal.” With regulations
pending in many other states and
cities, it is likely that all CRTs
will eventually be banned from landfills.
There is recycling equipment on the
market that crushes CRTs in sealed
chambers and separates the metal
components from the glass. The result
is a mixed stream of both leaded
and unleaded glass that can be smelted
for lead content.
The challenge of properly and profitably
recycling CRTs and other electronic
products is difficult, but is being
met by a number of electronic waste
disposal companies around the country.
Luminous is among the new breed of
companies specializing in the environmentally
safe recycling of CRTs that results
in separated streams of clean leaded
and unleaded glass. “We do not remarket
anything containing a CRT. It’s important
to our customers that what we export
does not fall under the CRT export
rule, because it is a processed commodity
at that point,” said Fuelberth.
There’s no valuable commodity in
CRTs and the recovered glass has
low value, but is marketable. Like
most electronic recyclers Luminous
charges a fee to dispose of CRTs.
“We price ourselves to our recycling
partners as a wholesaler. Those customers
produce large volumes so they get
volume discounts,” Fuelberth said.
Last spring, Luminous Recycling and
Newtech Recycling in Bridgewater,
New Jersey were the first companies
in the United States to start using
high tech CRT recycling machines
made by CRT Heaven in the United
Kingdom. Each company spent approximately
$500,000 for Heaven’s Angel units.
“These machines can processes anywhere
from 60 to 85 CTRs per hour, and
smoothly handle screen sizes from
10 to 40-inches – either whole tubes
or ones with broken necks – without
slowing down production,” said Jim
Entwistle, president and partner
The Angel’s automated process uses
high-speed, diamond-tipped blades
to cut the entire circumference of
the tube at the “frit line” that
separates the heavily leaded funnel
glass from the unleaded panel glass,
thereby creating two streams of desirable,
specialized glass that can be reprocessed
and used to manufacture new products.
“There is definitely a demand for
the glass material, no question.
It’s not profitable as a standalone
product without receiving upfront
disposal fees, but it supports the
business model,” said Entwistle.
The business model for disposing
of CRTs and other electronic products
is very interesting. Responsibly
demanufacturing electronic goods
is not profitable today based on
the derivative materials alone, but
must be supported by advanced user
fees paid by electronics manufacturers,
corporations, governments or consumers.
Either on a volunteer basis or by
force of state laws a majority of
the major manufacturers have programs
or pilot projects to recover and
recycle old products.
Under the Sony program, for example,
companies like Luminous and Newtech
are regularly audited by Sony to
make sure environmentally sound processes
are employed, and to track downstream
receivers of recycled materials.
Authorized recyclers report the number
of Sony products they ingest and
are compensated with fees according
to the type of product de-manufactured.
“Everything that comes in here will
become feed stock for other manufacturers.
We have a no-landfill policy. Nothing
goes into landfill that doesn’t belong
in a landfill,” Entwistle emphasized.
Fees paid to electronic recyclers
range from approximately $10 to $20
dollars depending on the screen size
of the TV and approximately $10 dollars
for a computer monitor. “More and
more of the bidders that respond
want to know where I am sending the
material and who the downstream vendors
are,” said Entwistle.
In 2000, Newtech was the first electronic
recycler in New Jersey to be licensed
by New Jersey Department of Environmental
Protection (NJDEP). At the company’s
55,000 square foot New Jersey facility,
approximately 25 flex-time employees
recycle electronics ranging from
cell phones to copiers to CPUs. “Technologies
like the Angel and electronics recycling
generate new jobs every day. For
our system, each shift we run anywhere
from 16 to 18 people to support the
system,” said Fuelberth at Luminous.
Processing begins with manual “shelling”
of the plastic housings from the
CRTs. At Newtech plastic is divided
into two streams, those from TVs
and those from computers, which are
sold to plastics recyclers. “Plastic
monitor cases are bulky and expensive
to handle and ship, a variety of
plastics are used and components
may be contaminated by metal or other
material. Although prices paid and
material specifications will vary,
scrap plastic markets generally pay
a good price for sorted, uncontaminated,
ground material shipped to their
location. Conversely, they will not
accept, or charge a fee, for loads
of loose, mixed, unprepared components,”
said Entwistle. Luminous sends out
its plastic in bulk to a domestic
processor that specializes in separating
plastics and remarketing.
Metal components and the copper-laden
yoke are removed manually from the
funnel end of the tube and metals
are sorted for scrap. “There’s gold
in some circuitry and we do our best
to recover that by sending it out
to a refinery,” said Entwistle.
After a CRT is cleaned of extraneous
labels and adhesives, it is fed on
rollers into a chamber where it is
secured by a vacuum and hydraulic
system with a laser leveling device.
Then, the CRT moves into a sealed
chamber with an air filtration system
where the CRT is measured and cut
to separate the funnel, or leaded
glass section from the frontal or
unleaded glass section. The leaded
funnel glass goes into an environmental
chamber where it is crushed and the
non-leaded glass goes into a separate
chamber where the phosphor dust is
removed and the panel crushed. The
result: two clean streams of glass
crushed into two to five inch sizes,
known as Clean Glass Cullet and Leaded
Glass Cullet. The aggregates are
sealed into cardboard boxes, labeled
and loaded into cargo containers
“These special types of glass can
be used to make new CRT, LED and
plasma monitors and make the reprocessing
easier and less costly for our customers.
We are partnering with Samsung-Corning
in Malaysia, but most of my glass
currently is going to India,” said
Luminous is in the process of establishing
another electronic recycling center
in the Midwest to access more CRT
volume, better serve its national
customers and reduce shipping costs.
In addition to the Angel system,
it will have a Devil unit that removes
the graphic paint from the glass,
making it furnace-ready.
“With the value of the commodities
going down the tube, we have to offset
our costs in the way of fees. Our
technology is probably the best available
today. It allows us to keep over
overhead costs as low as possible
because of the volume of the system
– a whole monitor into the parts
we need in less than two minutes,”