CRT Glass Market Murder Mystery: Killing with Friendly Fire

"I have to say something." 

We have a really, really immature CRT glass recycling industry.  With a couple of exceptions like Dave Dlubak, who knows how to keep quiet after 3 generations of managing scrap glass, we have a lot of people who think that negative campaigning against each other is the way to put themselves ahead.

"There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them."

Our "e-waste" recycling industry, in general, has made a mess out of "investigations" and "diligence" (or dis-lingence) of cullet end markets.  Having put the word "waste" in the title of our commodity, we were off to a bad start.  And it got worse.

We had a very, very low bar to meet, environmentally.  Provide leaded silicate in a way which is safer than virgin lead mining.  100 years of environmental science were behind the "hierarchy" of reuse, recycling and mining-for-disposal.  Stand at a mine like OK Tedi in Papua New Guinea, where cyanide tailings rush out of the rainforest, killing all the coral reefs.   Stand at a lead mine in Peru, or Kabwe Zambia (the most toxic place on earth).  All we had to do was take lead and silica which has already been mined, already been refined, and deliver it to replace the virgin raw material.  The worst recycling beats the best mining.

But greed for competitive advantages between recyclers has gotten in the way, and "inspection costs" are now perceived by the buyers to outweigh the financial and environmental advantages of CRT glass recycling.

2005:  I worked very, very hard in 2005 to open up the Samsung, Klang, Malaysia CRT furnace to secondary cullet.  That means recycled CRT glass.   We worked with one of the largest CRT contract assembly companies on the planet, who purchased $200M in new CRT tubes from Samsung Klang in 2003, to use their purchasing influence to open the door.

2008:  Someone in the USA, I won't say who, but in our industry, was upset that Samsung was taking "unwashed glass".  The Recycler had put in an investment to wash the phosphor. So they told a certain NGO in Washington to contact the Malaysia EPA about Samsung taking in unwashed glass to recycle it.

"Could you give us a statement please?"
"Yes. 'Chocolate makes one very thirsty.'"

You know the end of the story.   The Samsung CRT furnace continued to buy CRT cullet.  From Japan, and South Korea, and Australia.  Not any more from the United States.

In 2009, NGOs fingered African reuse markets, leading to a string of investigations and arrests.  The sea containers were sorted through in 2010 and found to be 91% reuse, higher than new product sold to Africa.

In 2010, a very large contract manufacturer (SKD) in Indonesia also hired one of the industries top experts, David Cauchi, to put in a glass recycling line, to address the concerns about incidental breakage and fallout.  It would have created a glass end market for Indonesia itself, one of the largest CRT in households nations in the world.   Someone in the "E-Stewards" group, who I won't mention, fingered them to BAN, who wrote to the Indonesia EPA, who shut them down.

2012:  The same has happened to a Fair Trade Recycling SKD refurbishing factory in Southeast Asia.  And we are probably going to do the same thing to lead smelters and copper smelters.    Inviting recyclers to deliver material is like asking a Faulkner character to drag his feet across your carpet.

2013:  Now I've got a major purchase order for CRT cullet at a major smelter, and they can use a heck of a lot, on one condition.  They will NOT be in "Tier 2" documentation.  They are happy to buy 1,500 tons per day of recycled leaded silicate, but will not accept even 1 gram labelled as "waste".  They look at it like you'd look at it, if you went to Starbucks, and had to sign a form that you are not drinking coffee that exploited children.  They are the customer, the client, the good guys, the solution.  They want NOTHING TO DO with hysterical finger pointing clowns.

How has the USA destroyed so many CRT glass customers over the past 10 years?  Typically, it starts with someone who is really trying to be a good steward.  A recycler who washes phosphors wants ROI, and is alarmed that Samsung has put in washing at the front end (or tested the glass and found it to be cad-free).  He believes he's helping himself when he gets the regulators to require phosphor washing prior to import.  Even though the CRT glass phosphor are nothing compared to the mined mercury and lead dust and other minerals and earths that come out of mines "along for the ride"...  He thinks that increasing regulations on his product will make it more attractive - to people who buy and operate hard rock mined ores, suppliers who never, ever call EPA to investigate the customer, as retaliation or to denigrate other mines.


E-Waste Recyclers declare our products not to be a commodity at all, but a "bad" thing (waste), which forces customers to become "waste cops".  Then we send inspectors to check up on our buyers, making sure they are "ethical enough" to use our scrap instead of the mined material they can buy every day of the week.  Using that logic, we are creating a product standard that is a liability to the consumers.  And almost every story of investigating legitimate buyers of our commodity ends with the buyers being defamed, accused, put at risk, or given a colonoscopy.  Surprise, surprise, there's a CRT glass glut in America.

How does the smelter know, really, that all 1200 tons per day they bought are WASHED?   By trusting the recycler not to make an error?   By lobbying for that exclusion, the recycler creates a quality control problem for the smelters and furnaces, whereby another recycler could accuse THAT pile of NOT being washed.

Think about it.  You are a smelter,in the business of buying lead from lead mines.   The most toxic places on earth.  Lead whose extraction from rock releases mercury and radioactive uranium dust.   EPA shows up to "inspect" whether the recycled cullet was washed.  BRILLIANT.  THAT'S REALLLY EXACTLY WHO THE BUYER WANTS HANGING ROUND THEIR DARN MINING AND SUPERFUND SITES, WHERE 45% OF ALL TOXICS CREATED BY ALL INDUSTRY ARE FOUND.  Not getting calls from smelters returned, much?

I left Doe Run and Torreon off the list, but they, too, are recycled cullet buying casualties of the 2005-2010 period.   And state environmental programs are now looking at raising the costs of closure plans and insurance to the facilities which wash and process CRT glass.

"Kato, my little yellow friend, I am home!"

Just stop attacking each other, idiots!   When Burger Mart raises questions about McBurger, burger sales fall, it's a category killer, it's bad for everyone.  What's bad for TDM is bad for CLRR is bad for URT is bad for Dlubak is bad for Sony is bad for ECS is bad for Panasonic.    We are killing each other, making our secondary material seem "radioactive" to buyers.   They are not actually so afraid of the material, they are afraid to be around immature businesspeople who attack one another.   Mining companies are engineers, and engineers are grown ups.   Environmentalists have yet to so distinguish themselves.

"I thought you said that your dog does not bite!"
"That is not my dog."

The sad thing is that all of this effort doesn't help the environment.  It is not even really a real  problem.

The cadmium phosphors disappeared by the early 1970s, and Samsung in Klang was a big boy purchasing products like Ytrium and other phosphors.   They purchased a CRT glass washing machine from the bankruptcy of Citiraya and moved it to Malaysia.  But by the time the NGO and their recycler friend was finished "raising the bar" on the CRT glass end market in Malaysi, one thing was clear.  They still bought CRT cullet.  But NOT from the USA.  Australia, yes.  Japan, yes. Maybe they'd go back to buying virgin material from Indonesian hard rock mines.

But American "recyclers" they figured are a nasty, immature, attacking lot.

 "You'll soon be laughing at the other side of my face, my friend!"

I'm pretty upset.  The same thing has now happened to my favorite "Fair Trade Recycling" plant overseas, an original contract manufacturer of CRT computer monitors, one a reporter profiled about a year ago.  They made the mistake of opening their doors to e-Steward, ISO, and R2 audits.

We had them audited for R2 standards, set up elaborate quality control reconcilition, and they took back junk CRTs inside Malaysia and delivered the bad glass to Samsung.  The factory put in ISO 9000 and 14001 systems.   The refurbished about 1000 CRT monitors per day, which they bought from WR3A members in the USA, to create affordable displays, which they sold in countries like Egypt.

It was high reuse, best CRT destination in the recycling hierarchy.   It was a back door to the Samsung Klang CRT glass furnace until it closed ... Samsung wouldn't take scrap CRT glass cullet directly from the USA recyclers anymore, but we could send it to the refurb factory for refurbishment, and any fallout or accidental breakage got recycled.  It was clean and nice.

Boom.   Some Pink Panther investigator, I'm not sure who, took our R2 audit and it got circulated as part of a "Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3" audit... you know, the kind where R2 or E-Steward auditors say there are absolutely no trade secrets because when I share our end market with our clients, our clients must share it with their clients, and their clients must share it...

BAM.  Someone called the host country EPA, with MY paperwork, and asked the nation's EPA to "verify" it as part of "R2".   Outcome?  No more purchases from the USA, ever.  American recyclers are dead to them now.

As an engineer friend in the manufacturing sector says "No good deed goes unpunished".

Commissioner Sir Charles Braithwaite: You must trust no one. The viper in our bosom could be anyone.
Inspector Jacques Clouseau: I suspect everyone!
Commissioner Sir Charles Braithwaite: You will report only to me.
Inspector Jacques Clouseau: And what makes you think I trust you?

There is a last hope market for CRT cullet.  We have made USA "supplier non grata" to the SKD refurbishing factories, and to the glass-to-glass manufacturers.  The little brown oompa loompa people don't buy from the USA anymore.  They don't have to, there are CRTs to be recycled all over the world now, the USA no longer corners the supply market for used IT equipment.

You read it here, folks:  the 1990s have officially ended.

Having priced or pissed our way out of the used CRT marketplace, we can still provide CRT cullet to copper, gold, and lead smelters, to use as a fluxing agent, replacing virgin leaded ore from mines.  We did 5 years of work to groom a copper smelter to take CRT cullet, and now people want to call them.

Please, don't cue the Inspector Clouseaus.   Someone told me he is going to the host nation's EPA to make sure they don't take "unwashed" cullet.   They want to make sure TDM doesn't send its glass there - or in other words, to have the buyer, who runs the cleanest factory in the most polluted industry in the world, on notice that their new raw material may be subject to waste inspectors.

In the huge, visible from outer space, outdoor mines this smelter owns, they have superfunds from decades old mines they purchased from Asarco. They have 6000 barrels per day of sulferic acid they must manage, and they make about $55 million dollars per DAY in revenue from smelting.  And someone in E-Scrap Business now says they want to make sure the type of CRT glass they take is the type that comes from THEIR USA PROCESS, not that OTHER recyclers process?   They use cyanide to leach the ore out of the rock... as does every other virgin ore primary blister copper smelter.  Please... don't kill the market.

And Lauren of Transparent Planet has the OEMs looking at everyone's glass downstream, and measuring how many months the glass has been there.   Here she comes, copper smelters!   I didn't provide her details for the report, because if it get's into Clouseau's hands, the pile's going to be there a lot longer.

"Anonymity is a virtue. Every fool knows that. Anonymity's next to cleanliness and I don't have to tell you what that's next to."

Raw material policy should be simple.  The worst recycling is better than the best mining.  Go to and get a scientific, engineering take on leaded silicate before you write a press release about "toxic recycling".

The minerals like lead ore and copper ore and leaded slag sit in the desert, in piles visible from the moon, for decades and decades.   And the mines reopen every few decades when the London Metals Exchange, or price of fuel, permits.  They even recycle their own slag... after it sits for 60 years in a pile that no one asked about.  Enormous piles of rock and earth shift and are moved around slowly, over decades and decades, treated with cyanide, monitored for leachate, and ever so slowly broiled to make the virgin raw material that we are throwing away in out old gadgets.  A pile of CRT cullet, with its dependable silicate, barium, and lead chemistries, would fit right in.  Except it's being followed around, be green stewards with magnifying glasses.

All the CRT glass in all the planet would not be as big a pile as the ore piles and slag piles around hard rock mining sites in the world.   But recyclers are afraid someone else may have an advantage, so we poison each others' wells.  We send letters to other peoples' EPAs like smallpox contaminated blankets.   We selfishly backstab and badmouth people for stockpiling completely inert, harmless, silicate.  Chasing a potential crime which is so small that it is ignored by intelligent people..

In so doing we are driving the price of recycling up.  There will be some winners.

Landfills.  Virgin raw material mines... And  people who declare ghost tonnage, don't handle TVS, don't actually move any glass at all (billing cheaply for invisible or double-counted tonnage).  And insurance companies selling closure plans and environmental insurance to cover inert silica.

"Arrested twice, I destroy a phone booth at a railroad station... I steal from a nun, I don't know my own face. A man comes up to me with, with my own face tied on, I don't recognize who it is. I don't... I don't deserve to have this autographed picture of Sean Connery!"

CRT Glass Recyclers - Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave... I've made this point repeatedly, through the years.  EPA should not be making rules about secondary material which are different from rules for primary material.   If they do, then the marketplace has spoken.  Raw materials markets will avoid recycling like the plague, or avoid the USA recyclers as sources.  That creates more jobs for ninnies.   That makes recycling activists and entrepreneurs look in the mirror and think they are really, really important.  It's the other market glut, the self-important whistle-blower problem.

The bigger deal I make of the management of my product, the more important I am?  Everyone should talk about me and my expertise in this new, so important, market problem?   Or throw the stuff away in a landfill.  Let the marketplace choose.
Copyright� 1996 - 2008 Owens Corning. All Rights Reserved.

I don't know if the old Pink Panther movies are worth watching any more, but they are definitely worth remembering.

We have met the enemy and he is us.

PS:  The Owens Corning fiberglass market, quietly, and without announcement, closed their doors to recycled CRT glass a few years ago.  The reflective paint market followed.

PPS:  Check out the TV CRT Glass Recycling scene at 1 minute in this Inspector Clouseau vs. Asian Kato scene, from "The Pink Panther Strikes Again."

1 comment:

WR3A's Robin Ingenthron said...

This post picks up from a post in 2011 on use of copper smelters demand for flux, and the resulting "slag" piles. See debate in the comment section, and link to USGS report on copper smelting worldwide.

This could more than use all the CRT glass on the planet. There is no justification for CRT glass landfilling to count a "recycling". But the comments in 2011 are exactly the attitudes which the Copper Smelter engineers fear... they have met enough NIMBYs.