Are CRTs Regulated? An E-Waste Compliance Primer.

Cathode Ray Tubes, or CRTs, are the big glass thing inside your TV or monitor.  They contain a few pounds of lead, though the lead is inert, vitrified like the lead in glass crystalware.  During the past decade, CRT glass has been labeled a hazardous waste, nominated as a universal waste, banned from disposal, and exempted as a commodity. When much of the discussion is about export, state regulators may feel they have no authority to enforce. Other regulators may create rules which are patterned after the "Universal Waste Rule", or which have unintended consequences – such as the mandated “cancellation” or destruction of working monitors in California.

This guidance document is intended for CRT collectors who wish to manage CRTs for WR3A purchase orders. WR3A can help you safely and legally export CRTs for reuse, but also insists that the CRTs be stored in an EPA compliant manner, and that the CRTs not suitable for reuse are properly recycled.
In 2006, the USA EPA published regulations for the management and recycling of cathode ray tubes in the USA, under RCRA 40 CFR Parts 9, 260, 261, and 271.


The EPA publication noted the following about CRTs:

- When disposed, the color CRTs fail TCLP test for lead (hazardous)
- When recycled, the CRT cullet replaces mined lead and silica (not waste)
- When reused or repaired, the CRT is never considered a “waste” at all

Basically, EPA said that CRTs become a hazardous waste when “discarded” but are not a waste at all if not discarded. The effect was to make it easier to recycle CRTs and to make sure that reuse was not penalized. But the agency also set some rules about how the TVs and monitors must be handled to be considered a commodity.

While the comparison between CRT “non-waste” conditions and UWR conditions is tempting, there are key differences. The UWR applies to batteries and lamps which are never repaired and resold as commodities. They can only be recycled, stored, or disposed of.

"The Agency also confirms today that used CRTs undergoing repairs
(such as rewiring or replacing defective parts) before resale or
distribution are not being reclaimed, and are considered to be products in use rather than solid wastes. These repairs do not constitute waste management. For a fuller discussion of this issue, see the proposal at 67 FR 40511. However, under today's rule, CRTs exported abroad for reuse are subject to a one-time notification requirement, which is discussed later in this section."

In other words, to be a hazardous waste, the CRT must first be a waste.  And if the CRT is "not a waste", it must be handled like a commodity - stored indoors, records kept, transactions in a timely basis. 

EPA isn't in the business of regulating TV repair people and charities. But EPA did set rules to keep the “commodity” exemption from becoming a loophole.  If you throw a TV in a dumpster, it sure doesn't look like you intend to reuse it, and states have the authority, right now, to enforce bans on disposal of CRTs, without legislation (as Massachusetts, California, and others have done).   Not even a TV repairman can throw his TVs on the ground, leave them in the rain, or dump them in a sea container and still claim to be in the reuse business. The rule discusses a "decision" to recycle the CRT, or a decision to dispose of it. When we strip off all of the copper and plastic, or ship the TV to a company which only processes glass, metals and plastic, that's a pretty clear decision that we are not intending to repair or reuse the CRTs. If, however, we send the CRTs to a factory or an organization that does repair, reuse, or refurbish them, we have probably not yet made that "recycling decision".

While EPA does not use the term “commodity exemption” per se, they describe conditions which must be met for someone to claim that they are managing a commodity and not a waste.

Indoor storage (three walls). If you actually intend to possibly repair or reuse a TVs and monitors, you not are storing them outdoors in the rain and snow, subject to vandalism and elements, or collecting them in open top roll-off containers, or collecting them in hoist trucks which raise the CRTs at a 45 degree angle. If you are claiming the commodity exemption, the TVs should be stored and transported the way you would if you were trying to preserve their value.

• No Speculative Accumulation. This term is applied to other recyclables which have been “diverted from” the solid waste stream. After a certain amount of time – 365 days in the CRT Rule – you do not appear to be reusing the CRTs. This rule requires record-keeping, and dating of loads, and showing equal amounts of CRTs managed as are being collected.

• Conditions on Export for reuse. The demand for CRTs, and ability to repair them, is much higher outside of the USA (Mexico, for example, did not go “digital” with their TV broadcasts, and uses the old USA analog signal replaced here in June 2009). Sometimes CRTs work fine, and can be resold for “direct reuse”. Tested working units are more common today, as more Americans simply “trade up” for flat screens. However, the largest quantity demand, by far, is not interested in whether your monitor is “working” or not. The contract manufacturers – the same companies originally hired to assemble monitors and TVs when that work was “outsourced” in the 1990s – are happy to buy back certain makes, models, and sizes of monitor for complete manufacturer refurbishment. The largest factor WR3A audited purchased 5,000 used monitors per day and employed over 1,000 staff. Both the EPA CRT Rule and the Basel Convention acknowledge that the “tested working” and the “repair and refurbishment” markets are NOT waste management.

But EPA but places two important restrictions on export for reuse:
  1. Notification to EPA that you are exporting for reuse, and 
  2. Three years of record keeping which document actual evidence that the CRTs exported were in fact reused.
While many companies meet the first condition, too few are complying with the second, and this has been perhaps the number one area begging for enforcement under RCRA. WR3A will provide an exact count of the exact number of monitors or TVs you send, and will document proper recycling of any incidental breakage or human error by your staff. One of the best things about these records are the increase in quality through regular feedback from the buyers – documentation provides training and feedback, and helps your company improve its handling practices.

• Export for recycling. This requires a 60 day notification to EPA, so that EPA can in turn notify the destination country and transit countries. Recyclers who export for recycling need to document that this notification was sent prior to the loads being sent, and must renew this annually. Processed CRT glass (sorted panel and funnel glass, washed or treated glass) is not subject to export requirements, but unsorted panel, funnel, monochrome, etc. is considered simply a “broken CRT” and does require export notification.

Containerized to prevent release. Obviously, a CRT thrown into a garbage packer truck is not going to prevent breakage and release of lead or (in older TVs) phosphors that may contain hazardous elements. This also means handling indoors, and packaging the CRTs in a way to minimize breakage.

The "Fact Sheet" below covers the minimum necessary standards for CRT collection under federal law.  This is different from Best Practices.  (The R2 or Responsible Recycler standard is one way to improve on EPA's minimum standard. )

The export of CRTs for recycling must also comply with the law in the importing country. There are countries which ban "tested working" electronics as well - we do not ship to those countries (China bans the import of tested working Pentium 4 laptops), even though these laws are almost always protectionist measures and are not environmental laws at all. R2 also requires that exports meet the laws of the importing country, and this is an example of the difference between waste laws and best practices (R2 would forbid the sale of a working laptop in China, whereas EPA would consider that a non-waste transaction outside of their enforcement, so long as you maintain 3 years of proof that the laptop was in fact reused).

Below is a Checklist WR3A has developed to help our USA members identify steps they need to take to remain in compliance before reusing, recycling, or accumulating CRT devices.

Checklist for WR3A CRT Collections

WR3A assists USA companies in exporting working, repairable, and refurbishable computers and CRTs for reuse, as is allowed by the Basel Convention (Annex IX, B1110) and by USA EPA (with notification). While WR3A can provide the 3 years of record keeping requirement that CRTs you export are in fact for reuse and are reused, we also need you to qualify yourself for the collection of ALL CRTs.
Since not ALL CRTs are repairable, you need to document that you either sent ALL of them to a USA destination capable and willing to remove BAD CRTs, or you must sort them yourself and document how the bad CRTs are managed. WR3A will not handle loads claimed to be 100% tested working without either a USA intermediary or a pre-inspection.

Since CRTs which are NOT collected under these conditions are subject to HAZARDOUS WASTE (or, in some states, Universal Waste) regulation, you begin by collecting records.   Here are some records which any reputable CRT manager should be able to produce:

[_]  Records and documentation of storage (not to exceed 1 year)
[_]  Purchase Orders detailing maximum quantity per month, minimum quantity per container, acceptable condition, acceptable brands and cosmetics, acceptable ages, prices, process for incidental breakage, etc.

[_]   Sea container shipments by BOL, count, port, etc.

[_]   Reconciliation report for each sea container actually received by the importer, detailing count, incidental breakage, quality report, and end-use.

With these records in hand, you are prepared for a "walk through" on CRT Enforcement.

[_]  Does the site record the total number and tonnage of CRTs (TVs and monitors) you handled in the past period (year, calendar year, etc.)? If so, what is that tonnage?

[_]  Does the site record the the total number of CRTs processed (broken, dismantled, shipped for legal export or domestic recycling) in the same period? If so, what is it, in tonnage and as a percentage of total volume?

[_]  Does the CRT storage area meet rules for “commodity exemption?” To avoid being a “waste handler” (or universal waste handler) the site manager must show that they are managing the CRTs to preserve repair and reuse value. Otherwise, they are managing hazardous waste.

a. Stored indoors (3 walls and roof minimum) to minimize breakage

b. Handling (containers, stacking methods, etc.) to control and minimize scratching and breakage?

c.  CRTs which are destined for recycling are kept on site for not more than one year

[_]  Does the site manager keep records of each CRT shipment out of the facility? If they are exporting (directly or through a third party), have they notified EPA of their intent to export for reuse?

[_]  If the site manager is exporting for recycling (broken, unrepairable, obsolete, exceeding PO for reuse), have they notified EPA 60 days in advance and obtained a consent order? If not, is the CRT glass separated by chemistry (panel barium, funnel leaded, shadow mask removed, cleaned of phosphor, etc.)?

[_]  Is there speculative accumulation? Does the site manager keep records that shipments occur annually in the amount that the facility receives?

[_]  If the site manager is exporting for reuse (tested working, repair or refurbishment), are the bad CRTs kept track of (including accidental and incidental breakage), returned to the USA, or does the manager have documentation they were retested for reuse or recycled in a legal and environmentally sound manner (not exported for disposal)?

[_]  Does the site manager maintain a list of CRTs potentially containing cadmium phosphor (manufactured before 1972, and “whitish screen” televisions, to limit possible cadmium releases from certain pre 1972 TVs and military grade monitors? (Japanese made CRTs did not contain cadmium before 1972, so Sony, Panasonic, Sharp and Hitachi models are not suspected of containing cadmium).

CRTs have not just been "deregulated".   What is needed is for collectors and state agencies to work together to raise meet and enforce the standards already promulgated in federal law.  

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