Massachusetts Bans Cathode Ray Tubes in Landfills

On April 1, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to ban cathode ray tubes (CRTs), the glass picture tubes in computer screens and TV sets, from landfills.

CRTs can pose environmental and health hazards, as well as take up landfill space, says Rick Lombardi, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Boston. "The amount of lead in computer screens is hazardous and can cause public health problems," he says. "It's better to recycle [CRTs] than crush them up, put them in the ground or burn them up."

It already is illegal for businesses to throw computers into the trash, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C.

More than 50 percent of computers can be reused either whole or for parts, Lombardi says. Massachusetts residents are encouraged to recycle not just CRTs, but their whole computers - either by inquiring about curbside pickup in their communities or taking these items to one of six collection centers throughout the state.

Goodwill Industries, municipal centers, the University of Massachusetts and the Salvation Army will collect the computers, some of which will be fixed and readied for resale.

The state has been encouraging computer recycling for the past two years, according to Jim Colman, assistant commissioner for the Massachusetts Bureau of Waste Prevention, Boston. Last year, the state paid $119,000 for the collection and processing of almost 400 tons of CRTs, and Colman expects the same rate this year.

About 75,000 tons of "electronic junk" is thrown away in Massachusetts each year, with the rate expected to be 300,000 tons by 2006, says Lombardi. "With the advent of new technology, it makes [obsolete] more quickly what we have today," he says. Banning landfill disposal and encouraging recycling "not only reduces waste but creates new markets."

To deal with the increase in electronic trash, Massachusetts also has proposed amendments to current hazardous and solid waste regulations on CRTs.

According to the proposal, the DEP's challenge is to "develop an appropriately stringent regulatory alternative that will both promote CRT recycling and satisfy federal statutory and regulatory requirements," one of which treats CRTs as hazardous waste. The DEP did not want to fully adopt that regulation because it can discourage CRT recycling, Colman says.

"Applying the full weight of hazardous waste regulations to CRTs is commonly viewed as overly stringent because intact CRTs pose relatively low environmental risks, even when they are mismanaged," the proposal states.

The DEP's proposal defines a CRT Operation as an area other than a household that is used for collection, storage, transfer, containment or handling of "non-commodity CRTs," inoperable CRTs that have not been disposed.

The DEP suggests requiring CRT Operations to: * Collect, store, handle and transport CRTs in a manner that prevents breakage, and shall safely contain any pieces from inadvertent breakage;

* Keep CRTs separate from any solid waste;

* Label non-commodity CRTs;

* Transfer CRTs only to another CRT Operation or recycling center, or a permitted hazardous waste treatment or storage facility; and

* Allow the DEP to inspect the facility.

Public hearings were held on the proposed new regulations in late April, and the public comment period ended May 1.