Why Are Recyclers Being Forced to Charge for CRTs

Dear Comprenew customer,
Electronic devices have improved our lives and, as a society, we have only just begun to realize these benefits.

However, electronics must be manufactured and used responsibly. Electronics represents the fastest growing environmental challenge our society faces because of the harmful chemicals they contain. These chemicals, mainly lead and mercury, should never be placed in a landfill or incinerated. To ensure safety, the recycling of electronic devices should be done only by licensed and certified (E-Stewards or R2) electronic recyclers. Unfortunately the current Michigan laws relating to electronics fall short in enforcing measures that would keep our local environment cleaner and safer.

Comprenew, a best-practice non-profit organization and the only E-Stewards and R2 certified electronic recycler headquartered in Michigan, has provided free recycling of all electronic devices for over seven years. Comprenew serves a broad spectrum of customers and pays municipalities and corporations for their higher value material and Information Technology (IT) devices.

The CRT Problem
CRT Image for article
Before flat-screen technology was developed we all used large and heavy Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) TVs and computer displays. The older style CRT devices are a significant environmental concern because each unit contains approximately 5 – 10 pounds of lead. Although generally safe when intact and in the home or office, broken CRTs release lead into the environment. Improper handling of lead contributes to cancer, kidney failure, learning disabilities, intellectual disability and behavioral problems. Lead is highly portable and can be transferred from person to person on clothing as well as through water and air. Instances have been cited recently of parents who exposed their children to lead after bringing lead dust home from the workplace on clothes or skin.

CRTs remain a significant percentage of the electronic waste stream. Comprenew estimates that nationwide, CRTs will continue to represent the majority of the overall electronic waste stream for the next three years or more. Within the United States, the response to the CRT problem varies by state. Currently, 20 U.S. states have made it illegal to dump CRTs in landfills. 25 states have required that manufacturers financially support certified and approved electronic recyclers by mandating that specific recycling targets (generally tied to the manufacturer’s sales within the state) are met. This system has come to be known as the “Take-back” program. The Take-back program has made it possible for citizens to recycle their used electronics, like CRT devices, for little to no cost.

Michigan Law Is Not Adequate

The state of Michigan has taken a different approach than other states. Instead of a landfill ban and a requirement that manufacturers pay for the recycling of electronics, Michigan has simply required four things of manufacturers:
1. Register with the Department of Environmental Quality.
2. Have an electronic recycling (Take back) program free and convenient for households and small businesses (less than 10 employees).
3. Maintain a Web site and otherwise inform consumers how to recycle TVs and computers.
4. Submit annual information about their take back program (number of units collected, names of collection or recycling agencies involved).

Up until recently the manufacturers have responded to Michigan’s Take-back law by working with approved and certified recyclers operating within the state and paying them for the residential poundage they collect. This practice allowed Comprenew (and other recyclers across the state) to collect and process Michigan CRTs without charging the customer.

Now, due to the lack of specificity in the Michigan law relative to other states, the manufacturers seem to have uniformly decided, through their associations, to reduce the amount of recycling dollars spent in Michigan relating to the products they sell within Michigan. This change in the manufacturers’ attitude relating to Michigan means that the citizens, conservation districts, and municipalities of Michigan will have to pay a fee to ensure that their used CRT devices do not harm the environment.

The lack of specificity in current Michigan Take-back law becomes an environmental disaster because Michigan does not ban electronics from landfills. Comprenew is being told by customers and municipalities that many citizens will simply chose to dump their old CRTs in the garbage or elsewhere, instead of ensuring that they are recycled properly. Unfortunately, we agree with this assessment. Instead of paying $8 – $50 to properly recycle a CRT device, many will simply dump it somewhere. Once dumped, some of these devices will be cracked open by scavengers for the small amount of metal inside. The easiest way (not the right way) to remove the metal from a CRT device is to break the leaded tube, exposing lead to the environment.

Once lead and other harmful chemicals are present in a landfill or water supply, the damage is done and the damage lasts forever. Every single living thing, human, animal, and plant will be affected sooner or later.

Your Voice Will Make Michigan Safer

What can be done? First, the citizens of Michigan need to raise their voice about this issue. Second, Michigan needs a landfill ban on electronics. Third, the Michigan DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) must work with the state legislature to pass strong and clear take-back legislation that at least puts Michigan on par with surrounding states.

We all love what electronics do for us. Clearly electronics will continue to touch more of our lives positively. But, manufactures are not designing or manufacturing electronic devices to be earth- or people-friendly after the useful life of the device. The best way to encourage manufacturers to do more in this area is to make them a part of the recycling solution.

At the end of the day, this issue is about what kind of environment and life we want here in Michigan. Solving this issue means we need to ban electronics from landfills and require that manufacturers who sell in Michigan take care of Michigan – just as they must do in other states.

Our Commitment

Each day, Comprenew makes a promise to do everything we can to protect the citizens and corporations of Michigan from data breaches and environmental harm. We will not be silent about this issue.

As a result of the issue explained above, Comprenew must charge for the recycling of CRT devices starting in the month of November. We are in the process of sending out educational kits to our stores, drop-off location partners, and customers located throughout the state. Other recyclers have also begun to charge for recycling or have stopped accepting CRT devices altogether.

We appreciate your support and feedback regarding the state take-back issue as well as our overall service. Please contact us at recycle@comprenew.org or me directly at svanderkooy@comprenew.org. We will continue to do all we can to communicate with you about this important issue.

Thank you for your consideration of this issue and the relationship we share. Together let’s make this state and world safer and better for all.

Scotts Signature
Scott Vander Kooy

MiBiz published a great article after interviewing Scott Vander Kooy and several others. Click here to read the article.

Grand Rapids Business Journal interviewed Scott Vander Kooy. Click here for the article on the above issue.

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