"There's still gas in a lot of these CRT tubes," Eric Mims, operations manager of the ECS Refining electronics-recycling center in a suburb of Dallas, told me, pointing at his workers, who are clad head-to-toe in blue jumpsuits, respirators, earplugs, plastic safety goggles, and thick work gloves. "If you don't hit the yoke in the right way, it can explode."
Years after most Americans switched to flat-screens, we're just now beginning to deal with the long-term ramifications of sustainably disposing of old cathode-ray televisions and computer monitors. This dangerous, labor-intensive, and costly undertaking will have to be done for each of the estimated 705 million CRT TVs sold in the United States since 1980. CRT processing, as it's called, happens at only a handful of the best e-waste recycling centers in the United States. In many cases, your old TV isn't recycled at all and is instead abandoned in a warehouse somewhere, left for society to deal with sometime in the future. [...]
The company's demise was not an anomaly. Though it is the largest CRT processor in the US to go under, the industry has been increasingly struggling with what to do about CRT glass, and so, in many cases, recyclers end up doing nothing. Creative Recycling left 15,000 tons of CRT glass in six facilities in South Carolina, and the EPA has found warehouses full of abandoned glass in Arizona, Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New York, Utah, Massachusetts, and Kentucky in the past three years alone. [...]
That companies were still willingly paying Closed Loop to take their unwanted CRTs speaks to the desperation many recyclers have to wash their hands of the responsibility of recycling them. The situation is further complicated because many of Closed Loop's customers were companies that participated in state-run recycling programs, meaning Closed Loop took taxpayer money to not recycle your old TV.
Over the blaring din of forklifts overturning dumpsters full of servers, circuit boards, and miscellaneous computer parts, I watched men hit antiquated, boxy televisions with hammers.