CRT Glass to Glass Recycling: Down For the Count?

Since the 1990s, environmentalists have had a strong preference for CRT glass to be remelted into new CRTs.  It preserves the value added by the barium and lead which is vitrified into the solid glass, and avoids mining of new lead and silica.  Given a choice between making a CRT television out of mined material, and making one out of recycled glass, it's no contest.

But word is that China is pulling the plug on its 20 year obsessive CRT manufacturing campaign.   They are sufficiently entrenched in LCD and LED display production, that they are turning off CRT glass furnaces.  "Time to move on."  We never really had access to export to those CRT glass to glass operations, and so China never really developed phosphor washing (at least, that they allowed anyone to use).   Now those markets have gone away, having never done anything but make CRTs out of mined material from Kunming and Mongolia.

The USA of course lost its last CRT furnaces a decade ago.  Europe lost CRT glass manufacturing 6 years ago.  Samsung Corning in Klang Malaysia did not retool and is giving out their purchase orders for cullet on a month to month basis.  That would leave India - which still sold as many new CRT units as flat panels this year - as the sold CRT glass to glass option in the world.

CRT reuse and refurbishment was prematurely dismissed ten years ago, but that does not mean it will be a solution forever.  Like the printing press, CRT refurbishment was important historically, but it will not be important forever.  More and more of the CRTs we take in Vermont, a higher and higher percentage, are being converted to scrap... and yet there is not much of a window to market that scrap.

The next stage will be black box CRT solutions versus add-ons at raw material smelters.  My own Mexico smelter investment will be making the headlines pretty soon, as will Teck Cominco in Canada.  Urban mining has arrived.

Over the next few years, the people who invest in the "black box" solutions (wash and separate lead) for CRT cullet will be attacking people who practice a simpler form of urban mining - collecting it in piles big enough to warrant the attention of a smelter.  That would be a pile visible from space.  The only thing keeping the smelters from managing the CRT cullet are 1) transaction costs (they don't want to answer 100 phone calls and letters for less than 100,000 truckloads, and 2) fear that environmental watchdogs and regulators will be attracted.

The latter increases the former, so it's basically one problem for the mines and smelters:  "We could use it, we could use all of it.  Unfortunately, CRT recycling is a pain in the ass."

That is sadly the same conclusion the remaining CRT glass to glass markets came to over the past few years (I just got a copy of notice that one of the remaining CRT cullet furnaces is closing its phosphor washing operation in 60 days - in a country awash in its own CRT glass generation - because of the "transaction costs" inflicted on them when they imported the cullet from the USA).

Speaking of the connection between display devices and printing press, I've just started reading the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (free online, no copyright).    Franklin took a job as a printer, and could have stayed as a simple typesetter.  But his reading and intellectual curiosity led him to want to compose more of what he was printing.
There was another bookish lad in the town, John Collins by name, with whom I was intimately acquainted. We sometimes disputed, and very fond we were of argument, and very desirous of confuting one another, which disputatious turn, by the way, is apt to become a very bad habit, making people often extremely disagreeable in company by the contradiction that is necessary to bring it into practice; and thence, besides souring and spoiling the conversation, is productive of disgusts and, perhaps enmities where you may have occasion for friendship. I had caught it by reading my father's books of dispute about religion. Persons of good sense, I have since observed, seldom fall into it, except lawyers, university men, and men of all sorts that have been bred at Edinborough.
I'll continue to attempt to write constructively about environmentalism, dialectic, learning and change.  I may regret some of my posts about the NGOs who shut down computer reuse and refurbishment, I may return to dialogue.   On Franklin's habits as a "constructive criticizer" in his youth, he writes convincingly about how the truth, used as a foil, can foil the appetite for the truth.

The best is a good copy, bad copy scenario... someone needs to wake the NGOs up to the unintended consequences of the repair and reuse prohibitions.  That seems to be my job, and my middle name betrays that I'm descended from Edinborough.  We need someone else to play good cop, and to convince the NGOs that they need friends like us in the export business, just as China, Malaysia, and India need CRT cullet solutions - for their own domestic cullet.  The way the phosphor washing was paid for was by purchase of USA cullet.

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