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November 2007

CRT glass recycling market
by Irwin Rapoport Write the Author

Recycling CRT glass from computers and televisions just got alot easier thanks to a new product, the Hotwire Separator. The product was invented by a Chinese company and perfected for the North American market by San Diego, California-based E-World Recyclers.

Clean, separated funnel glass is bagged for the next step in the process.

“We have a process that separates leaded funnel glass from the non-leaded panel glass,” says Bob Erie, CEO and co-founder of E-World Recyclers LLC. “It allows us to put a fully de-pressurized CRT tube inside a machine. We wrap a wire just below the frit lines on the glass panel.

“The wire heats up for about 30 seconds and as the wire is de-energizing, blasts of compressed air hit all four corners of the tube” he adds. “The hot-cold temperature change causes a chemical change in the glass, which causes it to fracture at the weakest point – around the frit lines, where the CRT was put together. It cleanly separates the panel from the funnel.”

E-World purchased its first machine in 2006 and then suggested several modifications, particularly those dealing with American voltage standards.

“We now have a machine that we believe is marketable without any problems,” says Erie.

There are markets for CRT glass. “Traditionally, over the last six years,” says Erie, “there has been a market for separated glass – as long as you can separate the panel from the funnel cleanly. The markets are thinning. I believe that you can still find an Asian market – Samsung in Malaysia and Korea may be buying until the end of this year.

“But the markets have been dwindling dramatically over the last two years,” he adds. “There is an Asian market if you have a way of separating the glass or making the glass into a cullet and smashing it with a machine, hammer mill or shredder.”

The key is to avoid co-mingling the leaded glass with non-leaded glass and other metal fragments, which destroys the value of the glass.

“Right now they are still manufacturing enough CRTs to use separated panel and funnel glass to make more ‘new’ CRT panels and funnels,” says Erie, “but as those markets continue to dwindle, there will need to be other markets for the glass. In the last five years, we have seen a large amount of desktop monitors that were replaced by flat screens, come in for recycling. Now there is the threat of a high definition signal change in televisions, so you will see a big increase in CRT glass coming from televisions from people’s homes.”

Erie believes that many states will mandate landfill bans on electronics, which will promote more recycling operations.

While recyclers might not ever be able to make a profit on CRT glass, the new Wire Separation Technology can greatly reduce operating costs.

“The glass has always been an expense to get rid of,” says Erie. “It costs you to ship it to China, Malaysia or Korea and by the time you pay to truck this material to port and ship it to those countries, you are into the glass for 8 to 10 cents a pound.

“When the glass comes out of our machines, it has a positive value,” he adds. “By the time you ship the glass to whoever is going to accept it, you may use up the value of the glass, but you can reduce the cost of disposal. E-World’s hot wire separation technology allows you to achieve a break even point on the glass. You are creating value in a product stream that has traditionally been valueless – separated glass has more options for re-use, and should allow others to save greatly on downstream recycling costs.”

But Erie believes that not all such glass needs to be exported.

“One of the domestic recyclers in the United States has a great solution where the bubble glass is going into a building material,” he says. “At some point, we have to start creating glass volumes that don’t need to be exported. There are very few outlets for this glass, especially in California and to ship crushed glass to the two lead smelters in North America – one in Canada and another in Missouri – doesn’t make economical sense. By the time you are done shipping to these smelters, you are looking at charges of 6 to 8 cents a pound.”

The incentive for the smelters is to derive the lead from the glass, which is currently selling at a record price on the commodities market. A typical CRT glass screen has approximately 25 percent lead content.

Erie stresses that his machine is not for operations that recycle large volumes of CRTs, but he notes that larger firms can remove the plastic, metals (copper and steel) and circuit boards and then ship the CRT tubes for processing at operations that specialize in recycling CRT glass.

For the recycling of LCD, plasma and flat screens, Erie notes that that are no machines currently available that can remove the flat panel screens.

“The only recycling method that I have come across is that you manually disassemble the LCD, which is composed of a few basic components,” he says. “All of them are recyclable. It’s time consuming to take them apart. You can separate out the backlight bulbs. They are filled with a very small amount of mercury powder, which is even more toxic than the lead in old devices. We certainly want to keep it out of water supply and landfills. We separate the bulbs from the housings behind the panel and put them into a plastic-lined drum that is sent off to one of our downstream partners that handles lamps and light bulbs.”

Most of the new-style screens contain very little glass.