The truth about CRTS
CRTs: The Whole Picture
Cathode ray tubes or CRTs are found in computer monitors and televisions. This piece of electronic equipment is usually the heaviest, least valuable, and most difficult to recycle of all recyclable electronics. The reason that CRTs are problematic is that they contain large quantities of lead and phosphor coatings. Lead provides shielding of x-rays which are found inside the vacuum of the CRT tube. The phosphor coatings emit different colors of light when exposed to the radiation inside of the tube. Neither the lead nor the phosphor coating in the tube pose a problem for the environment as long at the tube is in tact. However, some recyclers remove only the copper yoke which is the only valuable piece on the CRT and then improperly dispose of the remaining parts of the CRT.
Improper recycling of CRTs poses a threat to the environment. Lead can leach into groundwater. Breathing in lead dust or phosphors is hazardous to human health.
Many states are addressing the CRT disposal problem by preventing the disposal of CRTs in landfills. Currently more than 20 states have CRT and electronic recycling legislation.
When CRTs are Exported
The U.S. electronics recycling industry has grown tremendously in the past several years, however a lack of significant regulation or restrictions allows for the exportation of CRTs with obsolete computer equipment to developing countries. No one knows for sure how much obsolete equipment is dumped on developing countries but some estimates place it as high as 80% of the computer equipment that is collected in the U.S. is sent to China, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ghana. The “recycling“methods in these countries include smashing, burning, and dumping of electronic waste. Child labor is often used to collect wires or bits of metal in the burn piles.
Recycling CRTs is a labor intensive and costly process. Many electronics collectors avoid the high cost of recycling CRTs by taking the cheaper export option.