Ned Eldridge launched his electronics-recycling company, eLoop, in 2008. In 2013, a Pennsylvania law took effect prohibiting the landfilling of electronic waste, like TVs and computers: no more putting them out with the trash. But if you think that a law promising a practically endless stream of free raw materials was a complete win for companies like eLoop, think again.
Americans produce about 3.4 million tons of electronic waste annually, according to a 2012 U.S. EPA estimate, and much of it — computers, mobile devices — can be profitably recycled. But while most of that waste still doesn’t actually get recycled, there’s an especially big problem with cathode-ray-tube TVs and monitors — basically, the old, pre-flat-screen kind. Each CRT unit contains up to 8 pounds of lead in the tube. And with hardly anybody making new CRTs, low demand means it costs companies like eLoop more to recycle CRTs than they can recoup.
Pennsylvania’s Covered Device Recycling Act was created to keep toxins like lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic out of landfills. The law insists that recycling be free and seeks to cover costs by requiring payment from electronics manufacturers, like Sony and Panasonic. But the price that manufacturers are willing to pay doesn’t sufficiently subsidize recycling CRTs here. Each year, manufacturers must pay to recycle the weight of electronics they made two years earlier. But the weight of electronics collected has been exceeding that, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.