Recycling CRT TVs in Chemung County

Local News

With fall in full swing, it won’t be long before Thanksgiving, and Black Friday shopping are here. Among the most popular items purchased are televisions.

If you’re wondering what to do with that old tube television, you’re not alone. Skip Starr, President of REACT E-Cycling in Horseheads said the answer isn’t black and white.

“The way the state is set up, since 2012 residents have to recycle their television,” Starr said. “And it was originally set up to where the state would pay for that through what’s called an OEM program, or a take back program.”

But changes to state law now leave counties in charge of funding CRT recycling programs. And because commodity prices are so low, electronic recyclers can’t properly dispose of the cathode ray tube, or CRT glass without charging Chemung County residents, which is illegal in New York.

“Legally we’re not allowed to charge individuals because of that state take back program,” Starr said. “So if we can’t charge and it costs us money to recycle, it we’re not excepting it. We’re not in business to lose money and it wouldn’t take long for us to go out of business in that case.”

Though it’s technically illegal some local recyclers are still accepting CRT TVs, but they are charging customers for them. Starr said there’s a reason the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation hasn’t taken action yet.
“Because there’s such an issue right now, the DEC has decided not to fine anyone for that,” he said. “But I’ve decided to just go by the letter of the law and not except any until we can actually be paid for the program.”

So why is it so important to properly recycle CRT TVs? The CRT glass isn’t hazardous while still in tact, but if the glass is broken, the heavy metals inside could end up poisoning you.

“It can cause a lot of harm,” Starr said. “There’s lead, phosphorus chromium and any of that can cause several illnesses or even death.”

Even if you don’t break the glass, leaving the TVs on the side of the road or in the woods is also dangerous because of the lead solder inside the them.

“Just this morning I received an email from someone that works for a local highway department, and he said he sees hundreds alongside of the roads,”  Starr said.

But that’s not the only place these TVs are ending up. Executive Director of Chemung River Friends Jim Pfiffer said he’s seeing more TVs being dumped in the Chemung River since recyclers stopped accepting them or started charging for them. The problem is about 60 percent of the drinking water comes from the river.

“We actually had an incident where one of our river watchers was parked over there reading a book, that’s over on Hudson Street, saw car pull up, three guys got out opened up the trunk, brought a big TV out and threw it in the river, watched it float down the river,” Pfiffer said. “They were probably about 50 yards from where Elmira, Horseheads and this area gets its drinking water. That’s the withdrawal point right there in the river.”

Although REACT E-Cycling isn’t accepting any CRT glass from Chemung County residents right now, they still recycle about 2 million pounds of CRT glass from other counties in New York every year. That glass is coming from places like Tompkins and Cortland Counties who fund recycling programs for their residents, something Starr said he’d like to see here in Chemung County.
“I have talked with (Chemung) County Executive Tom Santulli and he said that he would like for the county to be able to pay for residents,” Starr said.

Santulli tells 18 News that his office is in the process of of applying for state grants to fund CRT TV recycling for Chemung County residents. So if you can, keep those CRTs in storage and you may be able to recycle it for free through the county.

But Starr said some recyclers aren’t actually sending the CRTs to be recycled. Instead many end up in illegal shipments to Africa and China, where they’re being scrapped for parts.

 “It’s a shame to see young people breaking into CRTs to get a small piece of copper or small piece of stainless steel that’s only worth two cents,” Starr said. “Then burning the rest and seeing that black smoke running throughout the cities, to see the rivers turning black because of the heavy metals. So we really need to think about the long run.”

For the time being, keeping those old TVs in the attic may be your best option.

Below are videos showing how people in Asia and Africa burn the rubber away from copper wires or smashing the CRT glass to retrieve a piece of steel on the inside.

Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia – A powerful documentary about the dumping of toxic computer wastes on developing nations, specifically Guiyu, China.

E-Waste Hell – How are the west’s ‘recycled’ TVs and computers ending up in a toxic dump in Ghana? Dateline Australia investigates the trade in e-waste which is poisoning a once picturesque part of Africa.

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