CRT Cullet, CRT Cullet, Everywhere

How Environmentalists Killed CRT Glass Markets with Friendly fire.

The Rhyme of the Recent E-Waste Recycler is more about the demand for leaded cullet.   Recyclers are awash in the stuff, and the price at destinations (like Dlubak Glass in Ohio or TDM in Mexicali) is rising.  People are petitioning California to let the CRT glass be disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill.

At the same time, the lead and silica are in high demand.  CRT furnaces are still running, still using virgin leaded silica.  Closer to home, both lead refiners and copper smelters are using lead and silica ever day to run their furnaces.   Copper smelting demands leaded cullet, the molten silica acts as a river to carry the copper, gold, silver and zinc down the process line.  At our local copper smelter in Mexico, the engineers throw bars of lead into the silicate as part of the delicate chemistry of making hard rock mining.

In principle, there is more than enough demand, today, to consume all of the leaded glass in all of the warehouse, basements, concrete pads, and trailers in the USA.   Why can't anyone move it.

Blame friendly fire.

I have always, consistently written about the need to measure mining harm before regulating recycled metals.  American enforcement agency shut down 7 secondary copper smelters in the USA for polluting - that's ALL SEVEN.   Despite producing more pollution, ton per ton, the primary smelters which make ingots from virgin ore steam on and on.

The Superfund was bankrupted by hard rock mining, virgin metal mining.  The cyanide used to leache copper from ore, the process to make blister copper, the mining for lead and silica to run the smelter flux, all of this leaves a heavy mark on the environment. 

But unlike an environmentalist, mountains don't feel guilty.   Mountains and mines don't stop supplying, don't demand downstream diligence, don't require a hazmat transport permit.   Mountains require more energy to move, but they never complain, and haven't "changed the rules" since the General Mining Act of 1872.

Therefore, if you run smelter - like our friends in Mexico - which uses 220 tons per day of leaded silicate, you want to stay out of the spotlight.   If you are running a CRT furnace in China, Malaysia, or India, you don't want to be "a crane among the chickens".

I have a renewable PO to consume 1,000 tons of CRT cullet every 3 months.  It would displace mining, would reduce carbon, and provide a cheap outlet for e-waste recyclers.

Unfortunately, well meaning environmentalists have made the subject of "secondary material" radio-active at the legal department of the smelter.  The lawyers fight multi-million dollar settlements and lawsuits, and manage risk and insurance (2000 tons per day of sulferic acid, accumulated in train cars, is a typical day of "byproduct" to manage). 

The smelters are meeting the world's demand for copper as they always have.  They dig up silica and dig up lead from the mountains.   They make $16M per day in gold, copper, etc.   

Why risk all of this by dealing with "do-gooders" who have a history of increasing the regulations, transaction costs, diligence, tours, snooping, etc.?

Outcome:  The smelters will not return your phone call.  Don't bother.  Recyclers are persona non grata at the virgin smelting office.

The perfect, you know, is the enemy of the good.  Putting used CRT cullet to GOOD use is picking a fight with the Ayatollahs of E-Waste, who sent the following letter to Malaysia EPA when the CRT recycling furnace there was buying CRT cullet from American E-Waste companies.

Arrogance is as stupid does.  This letter not only ruined the market for Malaysia, but most other lead silicate users took the hint.   Embrace recycling at your own risk.  No good deed goes unpunished.

So should California allow CRT glass to be landfilled?  After refusing the monitors to be reused under the cancellation clause (paying recyclers to break working monitors with taxpayer money), California depended on Malaysia for cullet buying.  Then the BAN letter effectively killed that market.  Then the Mexico EPA put "hazardous waste" cargo onto recycled lead silicate, labels that do not apply to virgin mined leaded silicate (a commodity).  220 tons per day is mined, releasing more lead, toxics, and carbon.  220 tons will be landfilled in recycled glass.  Who is to blame?  Environmental law.

The material carries the label "waste" not because of what it is, but simply because it's recycled content.

B r a v o  T e a m .     Own goal.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

An interesting article but there are some points which are misleading. The lead ore which is mined is lead sulphide (Galena)not lead silicate. This is roasted to produce lead oxide which is then smelted with coal or coke to give metallic lead. Small amounts of silica are added during the smelting process to aid with the formation of slag which contains around 1.5% lead along with other toxic impurities.
It is correct that CRT glass can be used as a silica source in a lead smelting furnace but it is wrong to imply that 220 tonnes of lead ore can be entirely displaced by 220 tonnes of CRT glass. Smelter operators keep the silica additions to an absolute minimum as it takes a lot of energy to melt silica and they want to produce as little slag as possible.

If you assume 20% lead content for well separated CRT funnel glass, using it in a lead smelting plant will recover 18.5% of the lead. This means that 81.5% of the funnel glass put into the smelter ends up as toxic furnace slag that can't be used for anything useful due to high levels of lead, zinc, arsenic and other toxic metals. Is this really an acceptable route for "recycling" CRT glass?

If the feed to the furnace is whole CRTs which average out at 6% lead then the amount of lead recovered in the process drops to 4.5%, 95.5% of the CRT glass ends up as slag. This isn't really a sustainable solution to the mountains of CRT glass piling up around the world.

WR3A's Robin Ingenthron said...

Dear Anonymous,

This is an excellent response. I do have counter-points, however.

First, you misunderstand what the CRT cullet can displace. It is not mined ore or galena, it is the fluxing agent / silica. Lead smelters will still mine lead.

However, whether it is a lead smelter or even a copper smelter, lead is also added to the silica for the fluxing agent you describe. Not even copper and gold furnaces use lead-free silica in flux. Our partner in Mexico uses 220 tons per day. I don't know what Teck Cominco proposes to use, or what Phelps Dodge could be using.

Therefore, the "slag" you complain about is going to be there whether it is recycled content or not. Recycling is defined best as displacing a virgin raw material, not by its final point of rest. Recycled content in tissue paper doesn't cease to be recycled because it's flushed down a toilet.

If all the smelters in North America use CRT funnel glass, or even panel glass, to displace just 20% of the leaded cullet they use as flux, the CRT cullet problem would be solved, probably within a decade.. TV glass is finite, but copper and lead production will continue. It's certainly a better option than the petition to landfill the CRT glass in CA.

Yes, the moderately toxic slag will still be slag, but the lead in it will at least be recycled rather than new lead mined from the earth. The total amount of lead on the planet is lessened.

Lead also reduces the melting point of silica, so there are energy benefits - and carbon benefits - to recycling CRT cullet at smelters.

Your point overall seems to be that we're better off selling CRT cullet to glass-to-glass CRT furnaces, and I could not agree more. The point of my article is that environmentalists exaggeration of toxics and publicity campaign affects all businesses using virgin product. Samsung in Klang stopped buying CRT cullet from the USA because of an environmentalist, as did one of the Chinese CRT furnaces, which dismantled its glass recycling line and sold it to Indonesia factory in Semarang... which was then attacked by the same publicity seeking non-profit.

No good deed goes unpunished...

Anonymous said...

Robin, I agree with what you say, my issue is with using the term "recycled" when applied to CRT glass used as a flux raising agent in a smelter. If I put a coke can in a recycling bin I'm fairly confident that 99.999% of it will be turned into something new, maybe a plane, maybe a car or possibly even a new coke can. The same goes for the newspapers I recycle, they might end up as tissue paper and have a short un-glamorous life but then again they might end up as the pristine office paper your pay rise notification is printed on.

The point is the materials will have a second life and become a tangible product.

Using CRT glass to displace some other silica source in a smelter is not what most people would consider to be true recycling. You say it is replacing a virgin raw material but the world is awash with other types of waste glass so really it is displacing waste auto or container glass rather than virgin sand. The argument isn't really waste CRT vs virgin sand it is waste CRT vs another type of waste glass.

There are carbon savings to be made as glass melts at a lower temperature than virgin sand and leaded CRT glass melts at a slightly lower temperature than container glass. But then again, you're going to emit a lot of carbon dioxide hauling CRT glass 2,000 miles to displace some locally sourced waste container glass?

This is the issue that never seems to come out when the glass to glass route is discussed. Everyone wants to talk about the energy saved at the CRT production facility and they seem to forget how many miles the waste glass has to travel to get there.

My point is that when someone takes the time to drop off their TV at a recycling event I believe they are expecting it to be "recycled" into something new. Many E-Scrap companies websites talk about "100% recycling" and "nothing goes to landfill".

I'm sure if you talked to someone who had just dropped off their old TV for recycling and told them that around 60% of it was going to end up as "moderately toxic" slag in a landfill they would wonder why they had made the effort?

In the absence of any alternative recycling route I'm happy to concede that if waste CRT glass is going to end up in a landfill it might as well pass through a lead smelting furnace first but this isn't "recycling" as it is perceived by Joe Public.

In Germany CRTs are "recycled" by using them to back fill old mine-shafts and in the UK crushed CRT panel glass is "recycled" by being used as daily top cover at landfill sites. Recycling? Really? Or is this just a handy term to describe legalised landfilling of waste that the public had paid to be recycled?

The E-Scrap industry will need a very convincing argument that this is the best environmental option when all those people who have paid $10 - $30 to have their old TV "recycled" find out that actually the really hazardous bit is now sat in a landfill somewhere.

WR3A's Robin Ingenthron said...

My definition of recycling is replacing the mining activity with something made from scrap.

I agree on many points, but in the end, if a tree was not cut down and a vein of ore or silica was left, it is recycling. Glass to glass is a higher end use, but the sun is setting on that market. Tomorrow morning, in real life, our neighbor's copper smelter will again dump 200 tons of virgin silica and mix in 8% lead for the fluxing agent. If next week they use 100 tons of CRT glass, they only need 120 tons of virgin silica and no additional mined lead. Environmentally, that counts.

WR3A's Robin Ingenthron said...

https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fpubs.usgs.gov%2Fof%2F2004%2F1395%2F2004-1395.pdf

This is an excellent 2004 report by USGS describing the major copper refining operations in the world. If you add up the leaded silicate in each nation's chart, you have an enormous amount of lead and silica which are going to be used, either virgin content or recycled content. The analogy to toilet paper remains. The "final resting point" of toilet paper is less romantic than a Hallmark Greeting card, but cutting down trees to make toilet paper is the only possible result if you don't count recycled content toilet paper as "recycling".