Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 349–369

Characterization of monitor recycling in Seattle, Washington

Authors

    • Department of Mechanical EngineeringUniversity of Washington
  • Joyce Cooper
    • Department of Mechanical EngineeringUniversity of Washington
  • Gina Hicks
    • SBW Consulting, Inc.
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10113-009-0106-8

Cite this article as:
Lee, S., Cooper, J. & Hicks, G. Reg Environ Change (2010) 10: 349. doi:10.1007/s10113-009-0106-8

Abstract

With the rapid growth of electronic waste (e-waste), policies that aim to effectively manage this waste stream have been introduced globally in recent years. Seattle, Washington, has been on the forefront of introducing policies to divert e-waste from the landfills and maximize recycling. With the introduction of the Take-it-Back-Network, a solid recycling infrastructure has existed in the Greater Seattle region since 2003. In 2009, the E-Cycle Washington program took into effect and now allows recyclers to offer free recycling of certain e-waste to households and small entities. Although policies to divert e-waste from the landfill to reuse and recycling is effective, there is also a need to analyze the current regional recycling infrastructure’s capacity to handle changing equipment and material quantities. This study aims to characterize the Seattle regional e-waste management capacity, with a focus on retired monitors as an example of a changing e-waste technology. We investigated waste computer monitor recycling in the Greater Seattle region, which includes the counties of King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap. Interviews were conducted on 20 collectors, 1 handler, and 2 processors to collect information on their business models, computer monitor management processes, and collection/processing quantities. Using this information, we summarize the material flows of end-of-life (EOL) cathode ray tube (CRT) and liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors in the region, both from the qualitative and quantitative perspective.

Keywords

Electronic wasteComputer monitorsCathode ray tubeLiquid crystal displayMaterial flow analysisSeattle

Introduction

A large and growing population, along with their significant material and energy flows, is one of the biggest factors of the human influence on the environment. Urban centers contain a large portion of these populations. Seattle, Washington is one such urban center that is coping with these issues and sustainability in general. It is one of the most sustainable cities in the United States, ranking within the top five of SustainLane’s US City Rankings in recent years (SustainLane 2008), thanks to its progressive policies toward environmentally benign actions. Waste management is one example of this; Seattle recycled 50% of its residential, commercial and self-haul waste in 2008 (Office of Economic Development 2009). This is significantly higher compared to the US municipal solid waste recycling rate of 33.2% (Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery and EPA 2009).

In an effort to capture more of its increasing waste stream, Seattle has also managed electronic waste (e-waste), a relatively new type of waste. E-waste can be loosely defined as any old, end-of-life (EOL), or discarded appliance using electricity. There is no universally accepted definition of e-waste, but it typically includes internet and communication technology (ICT), audio-visual equipment and household appliances that enter the waste stream. The most critical problem associated with e-waste is the toxic nature of the waste stream. E-waste contains over a thousand kinds of materials, many of which are toxic. These include lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, selenium, hexavalent chromium, and flame retardants. These toxins can cause brain damage, allergic reactions, and cancer (Puckett et al. 2002).

Computer monitors capture a significant portion of the e-waste stream. The challenges associated with managing them will only increase as demand for bigger and better displays grows. This growth in demand has caused monitor technology to witness significant changes in recent years. Cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors were the standard throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s. Starting in the late 1990s, liquid crystal display (LCD) technology quickly gained popularity. Today, light emitting diodes (LED) and organic LEDs are being used in many of the latest monitors. These innovative changes provide positive societal impacts, but also present recycling and EOL processing challenges. The recycling infrastructure will need to utilize different disassembly and recycling procedures for different types of monitor technologies, due to design and material composition changes.

As the new, dominant technology, LCDs introduce new challenges for recyclers and governmental institutions, in terms of both material management and infrastructure capabilities (Lee and Cooper 2008). For example, the biggest concern with CRT technology is the abundance of lead (Herat 2008), mostly confined to the neck and funnel. With lead being a highly potent neurotoxin, much has been done in managing waste CRTs, including legislative bans from landfills throughout the world (Electronics Takeback Coalition 2008; Kang and Schoenung 2006). Although not based on a leaded glass screen, LCDs present new challenges, such as the management of the fragile mercury-containing compact fluorescent bulbs, the most proprietary constituents of the liquid crystal assembly and display films, and more.

With the quantities of retired monitors increasing in Seattle and beyond, there is uncertainty as to whether the current regional recycling infrastructure can handle changing equipment and material quantities. Within this context, it is important to understand the difference between current collection, handling, processing, and materials recycling capabilities and capacities, as well as the rate of regional retirements expected during the coming years. To gain a better understanding of current and future capabilities and capacities and the ability to respond to technology changes such as the switch from CRTs to LCDs, we investigated waste monitor recycling in the Greater Seattle region, which includes the counties of King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap.

E-waste is a global environmental problem (Widmer et al. 2005; Babu et al. 2007). However, it is important to tackle the problem at the local level. This is especially true in the US because there are limited federal policies to manage the e-waste stream. Several states and local municipalities have instead taken steps to do so. Since e-waste management is occurring at a local level, it is important to study the situation at the same level. Several studies that have done this provide useful information to all stakeholders including researchers, governments, recyclers, and the general public (Kang and Schoenung 2006; Leigh et al. 2007; Wagner 2009; Kahhat and Williams 2009). However, there is still a lack of studies on the business models of e-waste recycling entities, especially focusing on computer monitor recycling. Also, there have been very few studies done on localized and characterized flows of e-waste in Seattle, or any other region of the Pacific Northwest. Due to its dominant information technology (IT), manufacturing and retail sectors, the Greater Seattle region witnesses an increasing population and consequently, increasing waste streams, such as e-waste. There are several urban centers, both in and outside the US, that experience similar challenges as Seattle. A qualitative and quantitative study on a localized level can provide valuable information for such urban centers dealing with e-waste management.

We begin the paper by introducing the history of e-waste management in the Greater Seattle region. The next section presents our data collection methodology and results. Our objective was to characterize the Seattle regional e-waste management capacity, with a focus on retired monitors as an example of a changing e-waste technology. Toward this objective, we were interested in obtaining both publicly available and first hand information from practicing collectors, handlers, and processors on how monitors and recyclable materials are being handled within or outside of the region. This is followed by a presentation of a monitor flow analysis, followed by a discussion comparing it with currently available data. We conclude the paper with general observations and further research efforts.

E-waste in the greater Seattle region

Until 1999, the greater Seattle region had limited options for residents and small businesses to recycle e-waste, with recycling services only available for large corporations with large quantities. The situation motivated the King County Solid Waste Division to formalize and expand the e-waste recycling infrastructure in Seattle and King County, through the creation of the Computer Recovery Project. The project represented a partnership among government agencies, retailers, repair shops, charitable organizations and e-waste recyclers to provide residents and small businesses with options for recycling certain e-wastes in a safe and cost effective manner (KCSWD 2008).

In 2003, the program grew to include additional types of e-waste, changed its name to the Take-it-Back-Network and merged with a similar program in neighboring Snohomish County (KCSWD 2008). This merge followed a 2002 landfill ban on household electronics in Snohomish County (SCC 2002) and was followed by a ban in King County, where Seattle is located, with legislation passed on October 1, 2005 (KCDNRP 2005). Whereas the Snohomish County ban covers desktop and laptop computers, cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors, and televisions (TVs), and separated circuit boards, the King County legislation includes all types of monitors and TVs and adds cell phones.

Today, King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Yakima Counties and the city of Tacoma are part of the Take-it-Back-Network. The network manages audio/video equipment, cell phones, circuit boards, computer monitors, computer printers/peripherals, computers and laptops, copier/fax machines, fluorescent light bulbs and tubes that contain mercury, PDAs/pagers, tapes/discs, and TVs as well as automotive components (antifreeze, mercury switches, tires, etc.), batteries, mercury switch wall mounted thermostats, paint, pharmaceuticals, propane tanks, sharps and thermostats (SCPWD 2008). The network is comprised of businesses depicted in Fig. 1 in three categories, as defined by us:
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10113-009-0106-8/MediaObjects/10113_2009_106_Fig1_HTML.gif
Fig. 1

E-waste recovery system in the Seattle region

  • Collectors, defined here as “public, private, or non-profit entities that accept or collect e-waste, consolidate equipment for reuse/repair or further processing at another facility.” Whereas some collectors also transport e-waste to handlers or processors, some simply provide a site for handlers or processors to pick-up equipment;

  • Handlers, defined here as “public, private, or non-profit entities that accept, collect, or sort e-waste into reusable, remanufacturable, and recyclable portions and subsequently refurbish e-waste for retail and/or disassemble select equipment for further processing and whose primary business model is in retail;” and

  • Processors, defined here as “public, private, or non-profit entities that accept, collect, or sort e-waste into reusable, remanufacturable, and recyclable portions and subsequently refurbish e-waste for retail and/or disassemble select equipment for further processing and whose primary business model is in recycling.” Some processors separate materials for recycling, energy recovery, or landfilling.

In reality, collectors, handlers, and processors all collect and store e-waste (KCSWD 2007). Both collectors and handlers will transport equipment to processors, and may own or contract trucks for this purpose. Both handlers and processors sort equipment, based on type, condition, or even color (as some colors may have higher potential for reuse). Devices that can be reused or remanufactured are diverted from the recycling stream and enter a secondary use phase.

Processor separation processes range from manual disassembly to completely automated systems (e.g., a combination of shredding and automated separation), depending upon the facility resources. Manual disassembly is performed for a few important reasons—recovery of reusable components, removal of plastic casings and large metal components, and removal of hazardous components. The disassembly process begins with the removal of plastic housings for most e-waste. High-value metal components such as steel, aluminum, and copper may also be removed manually. The removal of hazardous components, such as circuit board assemblies, leaded glass tubes in CRTs and mercury lamps in liquid crystal displays (LCDs) are also removed prior to any automated processing (e.g., starting with shredding). Following shredding, magnetic and eddy current separators allow the processor to divide materials into ferrous metals, aluminum and other non-ferrous metals, and remaining residuals (KCSWD 2007). Finally, the separated materials are transported from processors to material recyclers, with only aluminum and steel recycling currently performed within the Seattle region. Materials recyclers are currently not part of the Take-it-Back-Network.

Given these operations, the collectors, handlers, and processors that are part of the network must agree on six provisions to obtain and retain membership:
  1. 1.

    They must provide a letter of intent to the Washington (WA) Department of Ecology: Network members must submit a letter to the WA Department of Ecology notifying the department of their intent to handle used electronic equipment.

     
  2. 2.

    They must comply with export restrictions: Network members must agree to recycling equipment domestically and not export hazardous e-waste for recycling, disposal or repair to developing countries. All reuse or recycling must be done domestically or in developed countries.

     
  3. 3.

    They must maintain a certificate of recycling: Network members must have a Certificate of Recycling for customers on request. The certificate will include the type of product or material accepted; the name, location, and phone number of the final processing facility; and the process that will be used to recycle the materials.

     
  4. 4.

    They must report quarterly: Network members must agree to provide quarterly reports to the Solid Waste Division stating the numbers of TVs, computers, monitors, cell phones, and/or fluorescent bulbs and tubes that are recycled.

     
  5. 5.

    They must show evidence of insurance coverage.

     
  6. 6.

    They must submit to a site visit: Network members are visited by the Network’s project manager.

     

The future of the Take-it-Back-Network will be driven by the new WA State law, dubbed E-Cycle WA and following the example provided by the European Union’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive (EU 2003; WSDOE 2009). Specifically, on March 24, 2006, WA became the fourth US state to require a statewide program for the handling of e-waste (State of Washington 2006) and the first US state to require manufacturers to fully finance and organize the collection, transportation and recycling of their products.

The WA State law took effect on January 1, 2009. The law only covers computers, laptops, monitors, and TVs, which are collectively called “covered electronic products” (CEPs), and requires that locations offering free collection services must be made available for every city with a population of 10,000 or more. Under the law, equipment manufacturers, collectors, and transporters register with the WA Department of Ecology, where the registration fees are intended to cover the costs of implementation. “Manufacturers” include the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), as well as importers (for companies that are not US-based) and retailers selling their own brands (e.g., Walmart’s iLo or Best Buy’s Insignia). Manufacturers must join the central plan administered by the WA Materials Management and Financing Authority (WMMFA), a third party organization. They may also be authorized to create their own programs individually or collectively with other manufacturers, but must have them approved by the WA Department of Ecology.

Leveraging the success of the Take-it-Back-Network, the law intends to encourage manufacturers to work with the current infrastructure, including processors and handlers as well as charities, haulers, retailers, repair shops, and government facilities, to be collectors by offering compensation. E-Cycle WA only classifies recyclers as collectors and processors, excluding handlers out of the definition. The manufacturers are responsible for their proportionate share of e-waste, and this share is based on what is collected, not on initial sales. For orphan waste (no brand or no longer existing manufacturer), each plan pays for a share of the waste based on the plan’s return share. Manufacturers that do not meet their equivalent share (the share each manufacturer is responsible for, based on collections) are required to pay $0.50 per pound under-collected, while those exceeding the share will receive $0.45 per pound over-collected (State of Washington 2006). The manufacturers are given full responsibility, but have choices on how to comply. Furthermore, the law bans the use of prison labor, but not the export of e-waste.

For monitors specifically, the WA State Law states that “only TVs, desktop computers, laptop computers, and monitors are included,” seemingly to cover both CRTs and flat panels for monitors and TVs. Although experience in the management of CRTs has been gained over the last decade, LCDs as the primary form of monitor units has been gradually increasing ever since its commercial introduction in the late 1990s. In 2007, worldwide shipments of LCD TVs surpassed those of CRT TVs for the first time ever (DisplaySearch 2008). Estimates show that the quantity of waste LCD computer monitors will surpass those of waste CRTs as early as 2009 (Office of Solid Waste and EPA 2008), with the US transition from analog-to-digital TV technology in 2009, expected to further this trend.

Data collection methodology

Data collection included two components. First, we collected publicly available information on regional collectors, handlers, and processors. This started with the collection of firm names, locations, and contact information. The initial and most obvious source was the Take-it-Back-Network. The Network maintains contact information for members in the greater Seattle Area (KCSWD 2008; SCPWD 2008). The WA State Department of Ecology was another source of information, especially for small- and medium-sized collection entities (WSDOE 2008). Given firm identification, we collected publicly available corporate information for all collectors, handlers, and processors. Sources of this data included Hoover’s, Inc., ReferenceUSA, and the WA State Department of General Administration (Hoovers, Inc. 2008; ReferenceUSA 2008; WSDGA 2008).

Second, we interviewed willing collectors, handlers, and processors. Since collectors were assumed to have fundamentally different operations when compared to handlers and processors, the set of interview questions and interview process were different, as presented in “Appendix 1” and “2”. Notably, the interview of collectors was performed by phone. For handlers and processors, a site visit included an interview and a brief tour of the facility. All interviews occurred during 2008 and are assumed herein to represent 2007 operations.

Data collection results

Collection

Overall, we identified a total of 37 collectors, including those from the Take-it-Back-Network, consisting of a variety of business types. Four out of the 37 collectors had multiple facilities/outlets as collection points. This brought the total number of physical collection sites to 56, including 16 belonging to a big box chain store. The range of estimated annual sales was large as well, ranging from less than $500,000 to $19 billion (ReferenceUSA 2008). Although most employed less than 10 employees, a few companies were national companies that had as many as 75,000 employees (ReferenceUSA 2008).

Twenty of the 37 collectors participated in the interview process, resulting in a response rate of over 50%. Only 1 company responded that they no longer collect monitors and therefore are not considered herein. Of the four collectors with multiple collection sites, one did not participate, two completed one interview intended to represent all collection sites, and two out of the 16 big box chain stores were interviewed with an additional interview conducted with a representative from their corporate headquarters. As a result, a total of 21 interviews were conducted, with some questions not answered in all cases, either by choice or due to lack of information. In this section, “collectors” will refer to the 21 interviewees.

The 21 collectors fall into 13 North American Industry Classification System(NAICS) codes ranging from information technology consulting firms, non-profit organizations, computer repair facilities, retail outlets to municipally operated transfer stations and consolidators. We first determined how many monitors each collector collected over the year. We categorized the collectors as either small, medium, or large collectors. Small collectors collected less than 400 monitors, medium collected between 400 and 1,000 monitors, and large collectors more than 1,000 monitors. Nine collectors fell into the large collector category, and they include stores selling computers, and computer systems design services and waste management facilities. These were followed in number by small collectors, totaling 7. There were 3 medium collectors, and 2 collectors did not provide the number of monitors they collected.

Collectors noted that they receive monitors from both households and businesses; the majority for the large and small collectors was from households (at an average of 69% for small collectors and 53% for large collectors) and the majority for the medium collectors was from businesses (at an average of 58%). Also, most of the collectors did not differentiate between CRT and LCDs in their collection records. Fifteen did provide estimated proportions, while others only provided the total number of collected monitors. The percentage of LCDs reported for small, medium, and large collectors ranged from 0 to 11%, 0 to 50%, and 3 to 29%, respectively.

In order to further profile the collectors, we asked what type of services they offered. Nineteen of the 21 collectors responded to this question, as presented in Fig. 2. Each collector was asked to identify themselves as a thrift store or related organization, reuse facility, recycling facility, refuse or recycling hauler, transfer station, retail store or other, or any combination of the choices. For example, in terms of operations, collector 14 in Fig. 2 considers itself as a 20% reuse facility, 78% recycling facility, 1.25% refuse or recycling hauler and 20% retail store. Fig. 2 also shows the average percentage of each category across all collectors. As shown, the most common type of service offered was “retail store” and “other.” The “other” category most often represented IT consulting, computer repair, manufacturing, and streetscape management for commercial buildings. Only one collector operates as a thrift store or organization, but only as a small percentage of their operations, at a maximum value of 2%. In fact, although thrift stores, such as Goodwill Industries, were members of the Take-it-Back-Network during the early years, they did not charge a collection fee like other collectors. Furthermore, because the costs of disposing donated electronics cut into their funding for education and job training, and they eventually suspended their Take-it-Back-Network membership (Sepanski 2008, personal communication).
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10113-009-0106-8/MediaObjects/10113_2009_106_Fig2_HTML.gif
Fig. 2

Service percentages offered by collectors

Interview questions for employment characteristics covered minority/women ownership and employees, the types of jobs related to monitor management, wages, and required skill sets. First, 5 of the 21 collectors said they were minority or women owned, with 2, 3, 5, 2, and 3 firms indicating 20, 40, 60, 80, and 100% minority/women employees, respectively. On average, ~50% of the collectors responding to this question employed minorities and women. Second, 13 of the 21 collectors provided data on job types, with many collectors noting the use of forklift operators, administrative and sales personnel, and truck drivers and only large collectors indicating the use of additional, but unspecified, equipment operators. Third, although many of the collectors were somewhat reluctant to provide salary figures, salaries identified were $10-$14/h for forklift operators, $12-$31.25/h for administrative and sales personnel, $10-$28/h for truck drivers, and $20/h for equipment operators. Finally, the collectors did not have an extensive list of job requirements, and many did not have any. Seven out of 21 collectors stated that they require a degree or certificate. The requirements also depend on the tasks they are to perform at the company. Drivers would usually need a commercial driver’s license (CDL), administration personnel would need a business degree and solid waste training. Knowledge in Quickbook and database management would be helpful for sales personnel, and hazardous waste and safety training are required by some for forklift operators.

To support these human resources and collection operations, in general, collectors charged fees for monitor receipts, and 20 of them provided information on them, with the results shown in Fig. 3. The figure shows the frequency among collectors that charge the respective fees shown on the vertical axis. The color schemes are based on both the type of collector and type of monitor. Fees were found to vary from collector to collector, within each collector category, and for CRTs and LCDs. Specifically, small collectors use 2 types of fees: (a) on a per monitor basis ranging from $15-$20 for CRTs and $0-$20 for LCDs and (b) on a weight basis at $0.65/lb irrespective of the type of monitor. Alternatively, all medium collectors used some sort of sliding scale: with two medium collectors basing the scale on the size of the monitor and the third on the basis of the number of monitors received. Finally and somewhat like the small collectors, large collectors’ fees are on a per monitor basis ranging from $10-$19.95 and on a weight basis at $0.40/lb, both irrespective of the type of monitor.
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10113-009-0106-8/MediaObjects/10113_2009_106_Fig3_HTML.gif
Fig. 3

Monitor collection fees

Given these resources, Table 1 presents collection schemes identified by all 21 collectors. The numbers represent the average percentage of total collections that is used for each collection scheme. The range of all percentages is represented in brackets. For example, for small collectors, an average of 84% of all total collections is received through drop-offs, while the range is from 0 to 100%. Overall, monitor collection is dominated by drop-off and pick-up services, with select medium collectors receiving substantial quantities during municipal programs (ex. collection events sponsored by the local government)/special events. Collecting monitors from manufacturers and through mail-ins were found to be uncommon. For example, whereas one collector collects 15% of their monitors from manufacturers, another is completely dependent on mail-ins for their collection business. The latter offers bins and boxes for corporations wishing to collect equipment, so this process more likely resembles a delivery service.
Table 1

Collection schemes (percentage of monitors)

 

Drop-off

Pick-up services

Municipal programs/special events

From manufacturers

Retailers

Mail-in

Small collectors

84% (from 0 to 100%)

16% (from 0 to 100%)

None

None

None

None

Medium collectors

37% (from 0 to 100%)

37% (from 0 to 100%)

26% (from 0 to 78%)

None

1% (from 0 to 2%)

None

Large collectors

60% (from 0 to 100%)

20% (from 0 to 100%)

1% (from 0 to 10%)

2% (from 0 to 15%)

7% (from 0 to 70%)

10% (from 0 to 100%)

Specifically for pick-up services, although 16 collectors responded to the question, only 7 have at least 1 truck of any kind. One collector has a medium-sized gasoline truck, two have medium and heavy diesel trucks, while four collectors have a light gasoline truck, which is a common asset for small businesses. Four collectors also had trucks that did not fit in the four categories, usually a small diesel truck. The collector with the largest number of trucks uses 3 heavy diesel trucks, 5 medium diesel trucks, and 10 light gasoline trucks. This is reasonable considering that they are one of the larger businesses and require a sizeable number of vehicles to offer streetscape management.

The last question in the interview asked about the final outcome of the collected monitors. The choices included reuse, sent to handlers/processers, landfill, incineration, and export. Most respondents (19) send their inventory to regional handlers and processers, while 6 noted that they reuse some of their monitors. Finally, although none specified incineration or export of their monitors, 2 collectors admitted to landfilling some of the monitors they received.

With the introduction of E-Cycle WA, some collectors that participated in the survey have joined the program, while others have decided to drop out. Reasons for this are mostly based on individual corporate decisions, and the costs and benefits for each collector. Some collectors might determine that the E-Cycle WA costs their profits rather than benefit them. However, with E-Cycle WA allowing collectors to collect CEPs for free, it would be challenging for a collector to remain competitive by charging for recycling.

Handling

Three handlers were identified for the greater Seattle region, 2 with multiple facilities. One has 5 locations in the Greater Seattle region; another has 2 locations in King County, while the third has 1 location in King County. The two handlers with multiple facilities are within the NAICS “Computer and Software Stores” code (code 44312001, 44312007, 44312008). One handler is a non-profit organization and public data is not available. For the two handlers with available public data, the range of estimated annual sales is large, ranging from $500,000 to $5 million (ReferenceUSA). The two handlers employ 20 or less people at each facility. One out of the 3 handlers was interviewed, with 21 employees in total and 4 who are woman or minority. The approximate revenue last year was $4 million.

Since the early 1990s, the handler interviewed has been active in recycling of computer technology in terms of reuse/resale as well as disassembling to separate circuit boards, sheet metal or other material. Although specializing in reuse and resale of equipment (computers, monitors, printers, parts, cables, software, accessories, and peripherals), with minor equipment disassembly to separate circuit boards, sheet metal, or other materials also included in their operations.

Up until the onset of E-Cycle, approximately 60–70% of the e-waste received was from businesses including the collectors described earlier, while 30–40% was from households. Whereas all household collections were dropped-off, the handler tended to pick-up equipment from businesses, generally requiring at least half-a-truck-full of equipment for business pick-ups. For monitors, the handler charged $10 per monitor irrespective of the size and type. Additional fees for pick-ups depended on whether there was any offset on the material or not. These fees differed on a case-by-case basis, but typically the handler collected the equipment and assessed the potential profit, adjustments made to cover labor and transportation as needed. For this handler, retail operations, as opposed to collection fees, result in the majority of revenues. The handler does not sponsor special collection events, has no current relationship with OEMs/retailers, and does not accept mail-ins or donations from non-profit organizations.

For the 12,000–13,000 monitors handled per year, following receipt, the handler uses a non-electric pallet jack used to move equipment round the facility and gaylords for storage and transport. Plastic wrap is also used to consolidate the equipment. CRTs represent about 95% of their monitor receipts, although this will most likely decrease over time. Because they do not sell well, only about 5% of the CRTs are resold or reused, at prices dependent on the model and age, but usually below $50. The remaining CRTs are transported by the handler to the large processor described in the following section, who charges the handler $7-$8 per monitor to process them. For LCDs, all are tested upon receipt and approximately 40–70% is refurbished using screwdrivers, pliers and electric drills and cleaning solvents to prepare the equipment for reuse/resale, at prices also dependent on the model and age, but usually below $100. Although this handler manually disassembles many of the e-waste products received, LCDs are not currently disassembled. Therefore, all of the remaining 30–60% of nonworking LCDs is sent by the handler to the same regional processor as the CRTs at a cost to the hander of $7–8/monitor.

E-Cycle WA does not have a separate classification for handlers; thus, the handlers discussed in this section have all registered as collectors. When E-Cycle WA went into effect on January 1, 2009, collectors were not allowed to dismantle CEPs to recycle or refurbish the components unless they were also registered as processors. All collections had to be accepted for the purposes of recycling. This prohibits the handlers from legally disassembling non-functional CEPs or reselling functional CEPs. This was done to better track recycling flows and limit components from entering the black market. As an unintended consequence, CEPs that are reusable are not given an extended life. Recently, the E-Cycle program was altered to allow collectors to sell or donate fully functioning CEPs (Durbin 2009).

Processing

Two processors were identified in the greater Seattle region, and both were interviewed, including brief facility tours. As shown in Table 2, the characteristics of the 2 processors are very different: the larger and smaller processors contrast in the number of facilities operated, the employees, facility size, number of employees, and annual sales. Also, while the larger processor has been in business in the Seattle region since 1991 and processing monitors since 2001, the smaller processor has been in both business and processing monitors since 2004. Further, for operations in the Seattle region, the larger processor has a much larger monitor processing capacity at ~170,000 units per year, compared to ~4,500 units per year for the smaller processor.
Table 2

Breakdown of interviewed processors

 

Small processor

Large processor

NAICs description

Computer and software stores (44312008)

Recyclable material merchant wholesalers (42393017)

Facilities outside of the Seattle region

0

2

Number of employees in the Seattle region

6

100

Facility square footage in the Seattle region

2,500–9,999

10,000–39,999

Estimated annual sales

Under $500,000

$4.1 million

Years in operation

5

19

Equipment covered

• Audio/video equipment

• Cell phones

• Circuit boards

• Computer monitors

• Computer printers/peripherals

• Computers and laptops

• Copier/fax machines

• PDAs/pagers

• Tapes/discs

• TVs

• Fluorescent bulbs & tubes

• Audio/video equipment

• Cameras/supplies

• Cell phones

• Computer monitors

• Computer printers/peripherals

• Computers and laptops

• Copier/fax machines

• PDAs/pagers

• Tapes/discs

• TVs

• Fluorescent ballasts, bulbs & tubes (as part of sister company)

Monitor processing rate (includes all collections)

~4,500 units per year

~170,000 units per year

Fees received for monitors until January 1, 2009

• CRTs 17″ or smaller

 ° $10 from households (drop-off)

 ° $15 from businesses (pick-up)

• CRTs 18″ or larger

 ° $15 from households (drop-off)

 ° $20 from businesses (pick-up)

• LCDs

 ° $0 from households

 ° $0 from businesses

• CRTs

 ° $10 from households

 ° $7–8 from businesses and other collectors and handlers

• LCDs

 ° $10 from households

 ° $7–8 from businesses and other collectors and handlers

ReferenceUSA (2008), Lorch (2008, personal communication), Hoovers, Inc. (2008), Total Reclaim (2008), KCSWD (2008)

Both processors receive equipment from individuals and businesses, the latter including the collectors and handler described previously. Although both process audio/video equipment, cell phones, computer monitors, computer printers/peripherals, computers and laptops, copier/fax machines, PDAs/pagers, and TVs, only the larger processor manages fluorescent ballasts. Furthermore, whereas both processors provide reuse, retail, and processing services, the smaller processor also makes donations to the non-profit handler.

The small processor picked up about 80–90% of the units from corporate customers (including a negligible amount from white box manufacturers), while 10–20% was dropped off by residential customers and non-profit organizations. The small processor also collected some equipment from special events, usually organized by non-profits organizations such as churches. The large processor did not collect any units from businesses other than the collectors, handler, and the small processor, with 40% of receipts from direct deliveries. The owner of the small processor stated that three things are most important to corporate entities that use their services—data destruction, logistics, and security. He also noted that corporations tend to have a shorter turnover of equipment when compared to residential sources due to storage costs and prefer to deal with single vendors in favor of logistics.

Prior to E-Cycle, the small processor did not charge different fees for pick-ups and drop-offs for e-waste other than computer monitors, due to the difficulties in often heavy monitor transportation. As shown in Table 2, whereas processor fees ranged from $10-$20 for CRTs, fees ranged from $0-$10 for LCDs. This difference was tied to the potential value of the equipment. Specifically, whereas LCDs are often reusable, repairable, or valuable for parts, CRTs are rarely so.

Both the small and large processor begins with testing and sorting of monitors, with the remainder of the processing being quite different, for each processor and based on the monitor technology. Both processors estimate that about 90% of the collected monitors are CRTs (no distinction in records is made). Again, this number is likely to decrease over time. Based on the total number of collections from Table 2, this means about 10 and 400 CRTs per day are being processed at the small and large processor, respectively (Table 3). The small processor has a total of 6 employees, with all of them supporting CRT processing. The large processor has a total 100 employees, with 65 of them dedicated to electronics, including CRT processing.
Table 3

CRT processing capacity, flow, equipment, and materials

 

Equipment and materials

Small processor

Large processor

Capacity

~10 CRTs/day

~400 CRTs/day

Number of dedicated operators

1/CRT

1/CRT

Number of supporting employees (portion of forklift, administration, sales, etc. dedicated to CRTs)

5

65

Process flow

 Receipt and movement within the facility

1 electric pallet jack

• 3 propane forklifts (with pallets, gaylords, plastic pallet wrapping)

• 4 electric hand-propelled pallet jacks (Hyster)

 Testing/sorting into reusable, remanufacturable, and recyclable portions

Visual/manual testing

• Visual/manual testing

• Non-working units are sorted manually, by casing color/plastic type

 CRT remanufacturing

None performed

• Screwdrivers

• Drills

 CRT disassembly

None performed

• Compressed air-operated screen guns

• 1 air compressor

• 1 crusher

 Material separation

None performed

• Conveyer belt

• Shredder (SSI Shredding Systems)

• Eddy current separator (ECS)

• Magnetic separator

 Equipment and material packaging

None performed

• 2-Ram Balers (Harris Waste Management Group Inc.)

Movement around each facility is done using 1 electric pallet jack at the small processor and visual and manual methods are used for testing/sorting of equipment. Currently, testing and sorting yields about 10% reusable/remanufacturable and 90% recyclable CRTs in both the small and large processor. No disassembling or remanufacturing of monitors is being performed at the small processor, thus no equipment or material is being used for those phases. The large processor operates as a full scale material recovery facility (MRF) and performs remanufacturing, disassembly and material separation. Propane forklifts and electric pallet jacks are used for movement within the facility and testing/sorting is also visually and manually performed. Remanufacturing requires screwdrivers and drills while the disassembly phase will make use of compressed air-operated screw guns, an air compressor and a crusher. A conveyer belt, shredder, eddy current separator and magnetic separator are common pieces of equipment used in material separation and are also used by the large processor. Finally, 2-ram balers are used to package the separated material.

As noted in Table 3, the small processor does not remanufacture or disassemble CRT monitors and only testing/sorting of equipment is performed. It first determines whether collected CRTs are working in satisfactory condition or not. Those that meet satisfactory conditions are donated to the non-profit handler. CRTs that do not work are either sent to the larger processor at about $7–8 per monitor to the small processor or to a processor in California, for disassembly, materials separation, and ultimately, materials recycling.

The large processor also tests and sorts the collected CRTs and sends working monitors to the non-profit handler. The CRT disassembly process begins with the manual removal of the plastic cases. Metal components such as the exterior supports and controls are then removed from the CRT. Next, the wiring harness and yoke are manually removed from the tube. Tubes are manually sorted into black-and-white and color units. Because the black-and-white tubes do not have enough lead to be of concern, they are managed locally, with the processor’s glass cullet from their fluorescent lamp recycling operation. The color tubes are crushed, metals removed, and the glass cullet collected in a gaylord.

Older CRT wood console housings are not recyclable and were previously sent to a landfill at a cost to the processor. Newer CRT plastic cases are baled and shipped offshore, via a broker, for recycling. Circuit board and metal components are shredded and separated into ferrous metals, non-ferrous metals, and a circuit board bearing fraction. Then, they are packaged for transport to a metal recycler or a smelter. The combination of the black-and-white tubes and the fluorescent bulb cullet are sent to a materials consolidator for use as aggregate, at a cost to the processor. The leaded CRT glass from color monitors was previously sent to a glass-to-glass recycler in the US for use in new CRTs. This facility was located outside the Seattle region, with the processor paying transportation costs and the cullet accepted free of charge. Because there are no longer any CRT makers in the US, the large processor sends this material to glass-to-glass CRT manufacturers overseas.

For LCD processing, methods are also different between the small and large processor. Both processors estimate that about 10% of the collected monitors are LCDs (no distinction in records is made). Based on the total number of collections from Table 2, this means about 1–2 and 45 LCDs per day are being processed at the small and large processor, respectively (Table 4). There are no operational differences between CRT and LCD processing at the two processors, and thus, the process flow shown in Table 4 is identical to that of CRTs. Currently, testing and sorting yields about 70% reusable/remanufacturable and 30% recyclable LCDs in the large processor, compared to about 90% reusable/remanufacturable and 10% recyclable LCDs in the small processor. Again, no disassembling or remanufacturing of LCDs is being performed at the small processor, so no equipment is used after the testing/sorting phase. The large processor performs remanufacturing, disassembly, and material separation of LCDs, and the equipment required for those operations remain the same.
Table 4

LCD processing capacity, flow, equipment, and materials

 

Equipment and materials

Small processor

Large processor

Capacity

~1–2 LCDs/day

~45 LCDs/day

Number of dedicated operators

1

1

Number of supporting employees (portion of forklift, administration, sales, etc. dedicated to LCDs)

None performed

65

Process flow

 Receipt and movement within the facility

• 1 electric pallet jack

• 3 propane forklifts (with pallets, gaylords, plastic pallet wrapping)

• 4 electric hand-propelled pallet jacks (Hyster)

 Testing/sorting into reusable, remanufacturable, and recyclable portions

• Visual/manual testing

• Visual/manual testing

• Non-working units are sorted manually, by casing color/plastic type

 LCD remanufacturing

None performed

• Screwdrivers

• Drills

 LCD disassembly

None performed

• Compressed air-operated screen guns

• 1 air compressor

• 1 crusher

 Material separation

None performed

• Conveyer belt

• Shredder (SSI Shredding Systems)

• Eddy current separator (ECS)

• Magnetic separator

 Equipment and material packaging

None performed

• 2-Ram Balers (Harris Waste Management Group Inc.)

As noted in Table 4, the small processor does not remanufacture or disassemble LCD monitors and only testing/sorting of equipment is performed. Those that meet satisfactory conditions are sold through online portals, such as Craigslist, eBay, or the Broker Bin (a business-to-business hardware exchange network at http://www.brokerbin.com/). Similar to CRTs, LCDs that do not work are either sent to the larger processor at about $7–8 per monitor to the small processor or to a processor in California, for disassembly, materials separation, and ultimately, materials recycling.

Similar to CRTs, the disassembly of LCDs by the large processor seeks removal of certain components. First, the plastic housing and metal components such as the exterior supports and controls are removed with the ultimate goal of retrieving the cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs), which contain mercury and provide the lighting for the LCD screen in most models. There are usually 1 or 2 CCFLs in a typical LCD monitor, but some contain more. The lamps are extremely fragile and are removed manually. Once the lamps are removed, the mercury is removed by a sister company of the large processor, using a dry process based the use of negative pressure to capture the mercury (Jang et al. 2005). In addition to the management of LCD CCFLs, the company processes all types of fluorescent ballast, lamps, and tubes, and there are no other mercury management facilities operating in the Greater Seattle region. Besides the difficulty of safely removing the CCFLs, there is little economic feasibility is reusing them.

Beyond the LCD CCFLs, the LCD displays are composed of several layers of unique materials that are not found in other e-waste, including borosilicate-based glass, liquid crystals and indium tin oxide (ITO) (Lee and Cooper 2008). Although there have been developments in recovering these materials, the large processor noted that there are currently no methods to recover the glass or liquid crystals from LCDs (KCSWD 2007). Thus, once the exterior plastic and metal components and mercury lamps are removed, the LCD glass panel is shredded with the rest of the monitor. The resulting shredder residue is either sent to plastics recyclers or metal smelters. Recent studies have shown that the LCD glass can be processed into bricks and cement paste but no further information could be found on the commercial status of these developments (Lin 2007).

Processing due to the E-Cycle WA program has also witnessed some changes, especially in terms of logistics. Only one of the processors is registered as a processor under the E-Cycle program, while the other is registered as a collector. Although the recycling practices have remained quite the same, the collection quantities and revenue flows have probably changed substantially. The intention of the program is to increase recycling and this would likely increase collections for each processor.

Monitor flow analysis

Monitor flows within the greater Seattle region

Using the information gathered during the interview process, we estimated the quantity of retired CRT and LCD monitors managed in 2007 by the collectors, handlers, and processors in the region. A similar study was done by Kang et al. in determining the number of additional MRFs needed to manage future outflows of central processing units (CPUs), CRTs, and LCDs in California (Kang and Schoenung 2006). Kang and Schoenung (2006) used values for the treatment volume of a typical MRF in tonnes/year, masses for a CPU, CRT, and LCD monitor, the total volume (units) of retired CPUs, CRT, and LCD monitors in California and other variables to model several recycling scenarios. As detailed in Table 5, for our estimates, we began with the “capacity” (or the number of monitors managed) for the interview participants, noting again that we interviewed 20 out of 37 of the regional collectors, 1 out of the 3 regional handlers, and both of the processors in the region. We then scaled the interview responses for the monitor type (CRT or LCD) and destination (units to reuse or remanufacturing, to processors in the region, or sent to other regions) to the full sets of collectors and handlers on the basis of facility square footage as listed in ReferenceUSA (2008) for commensurate NAICS codes. The resulting monitor flows are presented in Fig. 4, providing a snapshot of monitor management in the Seattle region in 2007. The top part of the figure represents flows of CRT retirements, while the bottom half represents LCD retirements. Each arrow represents product flows of monitors and the width of each arrow is weighted based on the value of the flow.
Table 5

Regional monitor flow analysis

 

CRTs

LCDs

Collectors

Handlers

Processors

Collectors

Handlers

Processors

Capacity

 Capacity of interview participants

38,000

12,000

150,000

4,200

600

17,000

 Regional NAICS adjusted capacities

75,000

59,000

150,000

7,700

5,300

17,000

Destinations

 Percentage of units to reuse or remanufacturing

0.12

13

10

0.16

14

90

 Percentage of units to processors in the region

62

25

NA

72

6

NA

 Percentage of units sent to other regions (“leakage”)

38

62

0

27

80

0

https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10113-009-0106-8/MediaObjects/10113_2009_106_Fig4_HTML.gif
Fig. 4

2007 analysis of CRT and LCD monitor flows in the greater Seattle region in 2007 (in units)

As expected, the analysis shows that in 2007, there were many more CRTs being collected compared to LCDs. When the activities of all collectors, handlers, and processors are considered, CRTs are found to be reused at a rate of 10%, recycled at a rate of 61%, and leave the region (denoted as “leakage”) at a rate of 29%. Processors collect the majority of the CRTs and also process 90% of them, while 10% are reused. Alternatively, LCDs are found to be reused at a rate of 76%, recycled at a rate of 6.8%, and leak at a rate of 14% with reuse dominating recycling as an outcome of processing.

Looking forward, data from the Office of Solid Waste and EPA (2008) were used to assess the ability of the 2007 retired monitor management system in the greater Seattle region to meet the region’s changing needs. In particular, we were interested in understanding the implications of a United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finding that in 2009, CRT retirements are expected to be overtaken by LCD retirements on a per unit basis. Specifically, the EPA report provides national data trending through 2010 based on sales data and probability distributions for equipment life, storage, and ultimate retirement habits. The results of applying these trends to the 2007 greater Seattle regional data described earlier are depicted in Figs. 5, 6, 7. As shown in Fig. 5, whereas the number of units collected and reused is expected to exceed the 2007 capacity essentially immediately, the number of units to be recycled falls below those in 2007. This is because as the number of LCD retirements exceeds the number of CRT retirements, the proportion of monitors reused substantially increases, overtaking the increase in the total monitor retirements. Alternatively, as shown in Fig. 6, on a mass basis both the collection need and the recycling need are below the 2007 levels. This is because in general, LCDs weigh less than CRTs (and here, an average mass of ~21 kg for CRTs and ~5 kg for LCDs has been assumed) although it is important to note that variation in screen area has not been considered. Further, the change in the proportion of CRTs and LCDs can be expected to result in a change in the materials available for recycling, as shown by example for ferrous materials in Fig. 7 (and assuming mass percents of ~25 and 37% for CRTs and LCDs, respectively). Similar material changes can be expected for other materials, thus indicating a possible source of changes in the profitability of processors and the availability of recycled and hazardous materials.
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10113-009-0106-8/MediaObjects/10113_2009_106_Fig5_HTML.gif
Fig. 5

Forecast of monitor collection, reuse, recycling needs in the greater Seattle region (# of monitors 2008–2010)

https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10113-009-0106-8/MediaObjects/10113_2009_106_Fig6_HTML.gif
Fig. 6

Forecast of monitor collection, reuse, recycling needs in the greater Seattle region (kg monitors 2008–2010)

https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10113-009-0106-8/MediaObjects/10113_2009_106_Fig7_HTML.gif
Fig. 7

Forecast of ferrous metal flows from monitor recycling in the greater Seattle region (2008–2010)

Monitor and monitor material flows outside the greater Seattle region

Table 6 presents the monitor and material destinations prior to E-Cycle. Monitors leave the region via the collectors, the handler and small processor. Key out-of-region processors are located in within WA as well as in California and Canada. Specifically, in WA, a processor opened a facility in Vancouver in March 2008, occupying a 50,400 square foot facility. Operations include testing and refurbishing of reusable equipment, plastics separation, and removal of batteries, toner cartridges, and leaded glass from CRT devices. It accepts almost all types of e-waste except household appliances (refrigerators, microwaves, etc.), lamps, chemicals, and hazardous waste. It expects to process over a million pounds of equipment every month and employ 30 to 50 people (VBJ Staff 2007). The Vancouver processor is headquartered near San Diego, California, with the company also operating processing facilities among those in California receiving monitors from the Greater Seattle region. All California processors have benefited from the infrastructure developed due to the California Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 (SB-20). The Act establishes a funding system for the collection and recycling of certain e-waste (State of California BOE 2006) and has thus resulted in the financial support of 63 recyclers in the State, as of April 15, 2009 (CIWMB 2009).
Table 6

Monitor and material destinations prior to E-Cycle

 

Collectors

Handler

Small processor

Large processor

Monitor and material outcomes

• Reused/resold to public

• Send non-working units to processors or materials recyclers in region (large processor)

• Send non-working units to processors or materials recyclers to other regions

• Reused/resold to public

• Reused/resold to communities overseas

• Send non-working units to other processors or materials recyclers (large processor)

• Send non-working units to processors or materials recyclers to other regions

• Donate reusable units to non-profit organization (CRTs)

• Sell newer units through online portals (LCDs)

• Send non-working units to other processors or materials recyclers (rates vary by equipment and market conditions)

• Working units (resold)—Non-profits, Asia (converted to low-cost TVs)

• Precious metals—Quebec, Japan, Belgium, Sweden, China

• Plastics—US

• Steel—Seattle (metal recovery)

• Aluminum—Seattle (metal recovery)

• Copper—Canada, Mexico, Asia (smelter)

• Circuit boards—Reused, Europe

• CRT glass—East coast and overseas (glass to glass)

• Mercury lamps—In house

• LCD screens—Plastics recycler or smelter (Shredder residue)

Landfilling status

• Landfilling of materials or components by 2 collectors. No landfilling of materials or components by other collectors

• No landfilling of materials or components

• No landfilling of materials or components

• No landfilling of materials or components

Lorch (2008, personal communication), WMMFA (2009)

Monitors are also sent to Canada. One of the largest processors is Teck (formerly Teck Cominco), a diversified mining and metals company in Vancouver, BC, that offers e-waste recycling as part of its operations. Their business began with lead acid battery recycling and has progressed to include the recycling of computers, TVs and other electronic equipment. Their electronics recycling program, in consultation with the B.C. Ministry of the Environment, has been tested and proven to meet the exacting environmental standards needed for the responsible processing of e-scrap (Teck 2008). The company essentially smelts e-waste, with their process described in Table 7 (Ford 2007). Specifically, they accept computers, computer monitors, keyboards, mice, power cords, desktop printers, scanners, fax machines, TVs, cell phones and MP3 players, but they do not accept stereos, turntables, VCRs, DVD players, cordless phones, or walkmans. The company lists the products of their recycling process to include indium, zinc, ferrous granules, germanium, copper, cadmium, lead, gold, nickel, antimony, and silver (Ford 2006).
Table 7

Teck’s e-waste recycling process

Step 1: Shredding

Copper and circuit boards are manually removed from the shredder feed, with remaining components and materials shredded

Step 2: E-scrap feed

Shredded e-scrap is conveyed to recycling furnace

Step 3: Smelting

A 24-m2 fuming (or “recycling”) furnace with water-cooled floor and side jackets is coal fired, operates at 1,200°C, and can process up to 15,000 metric tons (33 million lbs.) annually. Raw water is added to the furnace to facilitate operation

Step 4: Combustion

In a combustion chamber, plastics decompose to carbon dioxide, water, and heat energy. The heat energy assists in maintaining the process temperature

Step 4: Slag management

Silica, iron, and aluminum become slag, which is recycled into construction materials

Step 5: Matte management (planned process enhancement)

Eliminating the need to manually remove copper and circuit boards from the shredder feed (in step 1), copper, nickel, gold, silver, platinum, and palladium stay in a matte phase and will be refined for recovery

Step 6: Heat recovery

Steam is released

Step 7: Offgas cleaning

Offgas is treated to ensure the destruction of potentially harmful pollutants. The system uses a Dracco baghouse filter (with 5,000 m2 of cloth area filters) with the cleaned offgas monitored for environmental conformance

Step 8: Shredding

Copper and circuit boards are manually removed from the shredder feed, with remaining components and materials shredded

Separated monitor materials leave the region solely based on the operations of the large processor, as listed in Table 6 and as depicted in Figs. 8 and 9. As shown, plastics and steel are processed within the region, non-ferrous metals except for copper are sold to brokers within the region, LCD mercury is extracted from CCFLs at the processor and sent to an out-of-region mercury retort, and all other materials are sent outside the region, within the US or internationally.
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10113-009-0106-8/MediaObjects/10113_2009_106_Fig8_HTML.gif
Fig. 8

CRT processing

https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs10113-009-0106-8/MediaObjects/10113_2009_106_Fig9_HTML.gif
Fig. 9

LCD processing

Discussion

In 2007, collectors, handlers, and processors in the Greater Seattle Region collected an estimated 226,000 CRT and 25,000 LCD monitors. The collection infrastructure involved businesses in 14 NAICS codes ranging from information technology consulting firms, non-profit organizations, computer repair facilities, retail outlets, municipally operated transfer stations, and consolidators to a recyclable material merchant wholesaler with a range of estimated annual sales from less than $500,000 to $19 billion. Smaller business variation is seen in handling and processing, representing only computer and software stores and the recyclable material merchant wholesaler, with annual sales up to $5 million.

All of these regional businesses rely on each other: the collectors use the services of the handlers and processors and handlers use the services of the processors. At the end of this regional business-to-business chain, of the monitors collected, an estimated 140,000 CRTs and 1,700 LCDs were separated into recyclable materials by regional processors in 2007. During the coming years and given just the businesses interacting in 2007, it is suggested here that collection needs will exceed capacity on a per unit basis but not on a mass basis, given the continuing switch from CRTs to LCDs coupled with an expected increase in the number of units retired. It can be assumed that the changes in the number of units and in the mass of material managed will impact all three business types, with obvious implications in the number of employees or the types of systems needed to support receipt of an increasing number of units, possible reductions in the volume of monitors stored and transported (assuming for example the number of monitors per pallet can be increased for LCD monitors), reductions in the mass of monitors transported, and reductions in the availability of recyclable materials coming out of the processors.

Of the monitors collected, many were not processed within the region by this regional business-to-business chain. In fact, an estimated 23,000 CRTs and 19,000 were reused (either within or outside the region) and the remainder left the region as leakage to unknown destinations and management systems. Thus, although this work characterized collection and processing within the region, reuse markets and the fate of monitors leaving the region remained elusive and are the focus of on-going research efforts.

For monitor and monitor material flows both within and outside the region, another important consideration is the role of changing policies. Since 1999, the Seattle region has offered options to recycle electronics for both households and businesses. This was followed up with landfill bans in King, Snohomish, and Kitsap counties and the introduction of Take-it-Back-Network. These changes altered the flows of CRT and LCD monitors and other e-waste in the region by shifting them from the landfills to handlers and processors. In 2009, the initiation of E-Cycle WA coupled with the US analog-to-digital TV transition promises great uncertainty in regional monitor retirement patterns. These two policy changes have not been considered in the USEPA data and thus are not considered in our estimated retirement scenario shown in Figs. 5, 6, 7. With the introduction of these policies, the need for LCD recycling might end up being higher in 2010, and further development of the capacity for LCD recycling may be required.

The E-Cycle WA collection data for January through October 2009 reports the mass and type of equipment (i.e., not the number of units). Statewide, the program collected 4,817,053 kg (10,619,784 lbs) of monitors (CRTs and LCDs) from January to October. On a mass basis, the Greater Seattle region considered herein represents 69.2% of the statewide monitors (specifically, 38.7, 14.7, 11.3, and 4.5% of all CEPs were collected by weight in King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap counties, respectively). This suggests that, assuming the data for January through October will be representative of monitor collections in 2009, the Greater Seattle Region will see about 5.78 million kg (or 12.7 million lbs) of monitors collected in 2009. Since the January through October trends include a temporary increase in retirements due to the on-set of E-Cycle and the analog-to-digital TV transition, this value seems commensurate with those estimated herein and depicted in Fig. 6.

Furthermore, E-Cycle WA can be expected to impact what stays in and what leaves the region. Specifically, removal of the collection fees in place prior to E-Cycle should reduce the financial incentives to export equipment from the region. In this way, E-Cycle financially supports two on-going activities originating in the Greater Seattle Region. First, to join the Take-it-Back-Network, businesses agreed to recycle equipment domestically and not export hazardous e-waste for recycling, disposal or repair to developing countries. Second, all the 2007 handlers and processors participating in the interview process voluntary signed the Basel Action Network (BAN) Electronic Recycler’s Pledge of True Stewardship. BAN, which incidentally is a Seattle-based organization, supports the prevention of the landfilling of electronics and limitations on the export of e-waste to only developed countries for proper recycling (BAN 2008).

Currently, there is no tracking of the equipment once its leaves the region and the consequences are unknown. In addition to creating unknown environmentally harmful situations, such leakage means that the potential economic value of the recyclable materials is lost to the region. In fact, Leigh et al. states that the regional management of e-waste (reuse, remanufacturing and recycling) can generate positive impacts on a region’s economy. This includes increases in total sales, job opportunities, and income level. Retaining the physical inventory of retired electronics can be a promising economic development strategy (Leigh et al. 2007). Thus, the leakage of monitors will introduce significant environmental and economic challenges to any region. Recently, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have shown the possibility of tracking household waste in Seattle and New York City (Navarro 2009). If this is implemented as standard practice, it will provide useful information about the e-waste management system.

In addition to the standard interview, the handler and processors shared additional thoughts about the state of the e-waste recycling infrastructure. Because both the business and regulatory environments are in a state of flux, emphasis needs to be placed both on understanding not only what is being done but also what might be done. The large processor expects the materials needing management in the Puget Sound to be 2–3 times that which is currently being managed—so they doubt the current system will be representative of the future system and are certain the current collection sites will not be enough to handle future collections. They also expect a change in business model for every product that they manage except appliances and light bulbs.

Both processors discussed challenges, including those related to their business models and recycling developments. One challenge for processors is how to implement reuse and remarketing, which is like the plug and flow of recycling operations. Recyclers prefer to reuse and remanufacture all their collected equipment; however, there is no collective information on how much reuse is actually occurring. Reuse and remanufacturing is also environmentally and socially preferred (Kahhat et al. 2008). While there are many developments in the recycling of monitors, reuse and remanufacturing of monitors is still challenging. Individual monitor components have low potential for reuse (especially LCDs) and many handlers and processors are not willing to disassemble them due to potential hazards, such as lead and mercury. Sorting and storage of monitors is another noted challenge. Currently for many recyclers, equipment that gets in the door can get destroyed on the way in. By setting up a system that effectively sorts the equipment and safely transports them from each location to the other, much improvement can be made.

The handler also offered important thoughts about the region’s infrastructure. All of electronics and computer business is driven by the cyclical relationship between the software developers and chip makers. With demand for higher-performing products, the longevity of personal computer systems and monitors is affected. The handler believes the reliability of electronics is going to decrease as a result of environmental initiatives. For example, with lead–tin combination solders, tin flakes are deposited in the circuitry, causing problems that did not exist before. In space travel, devices need lead because it provides flexibility. Since lead is a completely recyclable material, the handler believes it is possible to manage lead content in electronics.

Further research is warranted in assessing the energy use and input materials from monitor recycling in the Greater Seattle region. For example, there is limited research on the environmental impacts and energy inputs of e-waste recycling operations in the region. A life cycle assessment (LCA) study was performed on the management of EOL computer monitors to provide information on these aspects (Noon 2009). This paper only focused on computer monitors and the Greater Seattle region. Future studies will expand to other display-based products (such as TVs) and urban centers in the US and the rest of the world.

Acknowledgments

The research team acknowledges the support by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Material Use: Science, Engineering and Society (MUSES) Program, under Award No. 0628190. Special thanks are due to Lisa Sepanski of the King County (WA) Solid Waste Division, Craig Lorch of Total Reclaim and one anonymous recycler. The authors would also like to thank the reviewers for their valuable comments in preparation of this manuscript.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009