Aussies offer answer to toxic old TVs

New Zealand Herald, 01 June 2009

Australia’s first television glass recycling plant is calling for Kiwis’ old tellies, as environmental organisations on both sides of the Tasman try to stem the flow of toxic TVs to rubbish dumps.

Increasing numbers of people are dumping lead-containing cathode-ray tube televisions as they buy new flat-screen and digital televisions before the switch to digital broadcasting.

The change is due in 2013 in Australia and 2012-2015 in New Zealand.

Most discarded TV sets end up in landfill, with the toxins they contain such as lead, mercury and arsenic.

Adelaide company CRT Recycling has used A$290,000 ($364,296) of taxpayers’ money to open the first TV glass recycling plant in Australia.

Managing director Michelle Morton said the plant, which turns lead-laced television glass into material that can be used for new television and computer screens, was running at less than 5 per cent of its capacity.

“This is a non-renewable resource that we can completely reuse to make new televisions but it’s mostly still going to landfill,” she said.

Two New Zealand companies are awaiting hazardous substance permits so they can send television screens to be recycled by CRT.

The recycled glass would be sent to Malaysia to make new screens, said Ms Morton.

Unlike some similar plants, CRT does not separate glass from lead.

Ms Morton said that saved TV-makers the cost of adding lead to make a new screen, saved mining of new lead and reduced CO2 emissions from the recycling process (by lowering the melting temperature of the glass).

Jo Knight of charitable consultancy Zero Waste Trust said it would be ideal if New Zealand could recycle its own TV screens. “[But] unless we get something in place quickly they’re all going to end up in landfill.”

She said Kiwis needed a safer way to recycle toxic old TVs than waiting for inorganic waste collections.

Zero Waste Trust wants the Government to ban sending old TVs to landfill.

It has been estimated New Zealand has 10 million cathode-ray tubes from computers and televisions still in use or waiting to be disposed of.

New Zealand company RCN dismantles old TVs and separates the lead-bearing glass from the rest of the glass in the screen. The glass is exported to a lead smelter where it is used to help process lead.

The Ministry for the Environment said computer monitors in good condition handed in on a special recycling day last year were sent overseas to be reused. The rest were shipped to South Korea for recycling.