Televisions and computer monitors with cathode ray tubes (CRTs) and other obsolete electronics account for a significant and rapidly increasing share of the solid waste generated in Massachusetts. The volume of this waste is an estimated 300,000 tons per year and rising due to the emergence of flat panel screens, high definition television (HDTV) and other video technologies.
CRTs from television and computer monitors were prohibited from all Massachusetts solid waste disposal facilities effective April 1, 2000. Like the waste bans already established for other bulky items (white goods, tires, auto batteries), landfill, combustion facility, and transfer station operators must check every incoming load of solid waste to identify and remove banned materials.
Among the reasons MassDEP took this regulatory action:
- Continued disposal in landfills of bulky electronic components will unnecessarily accelerate the pace at which the state's few remaining landfills reach their capacity.
- Combustion of these items carries a potential public health risk. CRTs contain lead, which can contaminate incinerator ash and prevent its beneficial reuse in asphalt and other products.
- To promote the recycling and reuse of lead, and leaded glass contained in the CRT, as well as the precious metals found in printed circuit boards, power supplies, and the like.
- Recycling precious metals from electronics reduces the need for strip mining and acid mining.
A recycling market is necessary for a waste ban to be effective. While there are approximately 50 electronics recycling companies already serving commercial generators in Massachusetts, there have been far fewer markets for residential CRTs. MassDEP is working to promote these markets. Much of this work has been accomplished by strengthening the base of TV and computer repair. There are more than 300 TV repair shops, dozens of monitor repairers, and more than 100 thrift stores accepting used electronics across the state.
Today, most CRTs are collected through participating charities like Goodwill and the Salvation Army, or collected with other bulky waste, at the curb, or at municipal drop-off centers, generally for a small fee.