With flat screen TVs and computer monitors now dominating the market, Loudon County has seen a large influx of the bulky cathode ray tube displays being disposed at local recycling centers.
The trend appears to be taking place nationwide.
Chris Parks, Loudon County Convenience Center director, said in 2015 the county accepted more than 141,000 pounds of CRT equipment, and the facility took in 191,000 pounds of TVs in 2014.
He said while residents have been turning in fewer CRT-based monitors recently, the numbers are still high. He could not predict how many the facility will receive this year.
“It’s hard to tell how far it will go down this year,” Parks said.
The Loudon County Convenience Center has accepted CRT monitors from residents for free, but beginning this year, Unicor, the federal corporation that has been receiving and recycling the used equipment, will charge a 15-cent per pound processing fee, which could mean that either the county or taxpayers will have to help foot the bill.
Until this year, Unicor has covered the cost of disposing of the CRT monitors and even paid for transporting the bulky materials to a processing center in Florida.
Based on the volume of CRT monitors received in 2015, Parks said the processing fee could be $28,500 per year.
He said that was a “high estimate,” noting that only a handful of companies in the area accept CRT monitors for disposal.
“There’s only a few of them that are even willing to take them, and they’re wanting 30 cents a pound,” he said.
Officials with the recycling center may consider charging a nominal fee for accepting the old monitors, or Loudon County Commission could add the expense to its yearly budget.
Parks spoke with Loudon County Commission last week on potential solutions for the TVs and monitors, which are currently being taken to Matlock Bend Landfill.
Commissioner Leo Bradshaw said during the meeting that he supported recycling the equipment.
“I don’t think we knowingly put a product that contains lead in the landfill, period,” Bradshaw said.
Micromanaging materials that are dumped in the landfill could become cumbersome and expensive, Commissioner Van Shaver said. “On a whole lot of different levels, there’s things going in the landfill that will far outpace the lead in a TV for hazard,” Shaver said.
“But we don’t know what those are,” Bradshaw responded. “We know what lead is.”
Shaver said lead content in trashed TVs would “pale compared” with other materials dropped off at the facility.
“I just can’t see spending that kind of money, and it makes no difference in the landfill,” Shaver said. “If there’s going to be things seep out, they’re going to seep out whether we spend money to keep things out of there or not.”
Bradshaw said county officials should recycle and keep hazardous materials out of the landfill if they have the resources to do so. “You look at the dollar amount versus the potential of liability,” he said. “It don’t make any sense not to recycle those TVs.”
Steve Field, Loudon County Solid Waste Disposal Commission chairman, said during an interview that while Matlock Bend does accept CRT monitors from individuals for the standard tipping fee, companies can’t bring used electronics to the facility.
“There’s still a lot of them coming in, even though you don’t expect to see as many these days,” Field said about CRT monitors at the convenience center.
“What’s different is that there’s all the sudden no cost-appropriate (disposal method),” he added. “(That) has gone away, and I don’t want to see many TVs go to the landfill. I would just as soon not see any.”
Parks said his research found that an average CRT television contains about 5 pounds of lead.
Officials with Santek Waste Services, the company operating the landfill, nor the solid waste board has any measurements on how much lead, through CRT monitors and other electronics, is currently being stored and contained in the landfill.
“I don’t think it’s a lot because they’ve been taking them at the convenience center … which is appropriate because they get recycled,” Field said. “... Anything that’s electronics has a small amount of lead in it, and people have been disposing of electronics as part of their waste stream.”
Cheryl Dunson, spokeswoman with Santek, said CRT monitors and other electronics discarded at the landfill by individuals are classified as household trash.
“It’s not regulated as a hazardous waste because it comes out of the household,” Dunson said. She said that at the request of Field, she was checking on the possibility of Santek creating a dedicated place at the landfill to store discarded CRT monitors and other electronics.
“It’s a lined landfill,” Dunson said, noting that Santek had no issues related to lead getting into the groundwater. “We won’t turn away any TVs. We’re just of an opinion that’s there’s better ways of disposing” of the equipment.
Tennessee does not have a law against individuals taking electronics to local landfills.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation “does not disallow them to go into a landfill,” Parks said. “I think there’s a certain amount that you can only take at one time if I’m not mistake, but it is not something they say you can’t throw in there.”
Field said problems related to lead getting into the water stream have been made “very apparent” after recent news that the water supply in Flint, Mich., had been contaminated.
As early as March 2013, small recycling centers, like the one in Lenoir City, were becoming burdened with a high volumes of CRT monitors as residents increasingly turned to LCD and LED screens, according to a report from The New York Times. While CRT monitors can contain as much as 8 pounds of lead each, flat screen panels contain mercury, which is also toxic.
“Most experts say that the larger solution to the growing electronic waste problem is for technology companies to design products that last longer, use fewer toxic components and are more easily recycled,” according to the report. “Much of the industry, however, seems to be heading in the opposite direction.”
In Loudon County, Matlock Bend is designed in such a way that the liner allows for no residual runoff or impact on the groundwater from materials stored inside, Field said.
“The landfill’s designed to be a closed basin so nothing oozes out in the environment is the way it’s supposed to work,” he said.
Field said he hopes county officials can come to a resolution on disposing of CRTs in an environmentally friendly way that does not include dumping more electronics in the landfill.
“If it costs money, all the sudden the dynamics change,” Field said. “I hope the commission won’t take the position that, ‘Well, they can just take them to the landfill’ because that’s not good.”