In the early evening of July 11, CRT Recycling Inc. (CRTR), a Brockton, Massachusetts company well known for taking obsolete televisions and computer monitors from New England area businesses, residences, and schools, experienced a four-alarm fire in its warehouse. Consumed in the blaze were thousands of stockpiled Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) computer monitors and TVs[X] stored both outside and inside CRTR’s warehouse. The State Fire Marshall’s office has determined that the fire was ignited intentionally.
Authorities described the intense black smoke that billowed from the fire as being highly polluting and dangerous. The fire blew a wide plume of pollutants over nearby residential areas and a shopping center. The burning of TVs and monitors creates very toxic and carcinogenic smoke and fumes containing brominated dioxins, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) informed BAN that they will soon require testing and possible remediation of contaminants remaining onsite.
It was not the first time CRTR’s name had made headlines. In 2009, Basel Action Network (BAN) investigators observed CRTR moving containers to offshore destinations on a weekly basis. BAN photographed some of the containers in October 2009, tracked them to Indonesia and China, and alerted foreign authorities of the shipment. Officials in Indonesia declared the imports illegal, seized nine containers sent by CRTR, and sent them back to the US.[Y BAN press release]
Under the terms of the United Nations Basel Convention, it is illegal to trade in untested or broken used CRT monitors without the specific consent of the importing country. Mr. Peter Kopcych, the CEO of CRTR, readily admits to exporting CRTs he collects to developing countries.[Z Audubon mag].
In the last few years, Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and China, have stepped up their border enforcement and made it more difficult for US e-waste exporters to violate the Basel Convention. As a result, many US “recyclers” have turned to stockpiling CRTs in warehouses or in open fields with the explanation, often made to authorities, that they will be able to recycle them sometime in future. But CRTs are expensive to process safely and have very little scrap value. BAN has recently reported several instances of CRTs abandoned in warehouses, CRT fires, as well as the smashing of CRTs and illegal dumping of leaded glass in construction landfills.
MSC Carole, the Mediterranean Shipping Company ship that delivered the 9 containers to Indonesia that were subsequently declared illegal and returned. One of the containers (yellow) photographed by BAN at CRTR was one of the 9 delivered to Indonesia. The other containers depicted were exported to China. Both Indonesia and China have banned the importation of used untested or non-functional electronic equipment. July 11th, 2015.
While it is unclear what CRTR is currently doing with their CRT glass, it was reported in January 2013 in Recycling Today that CRTR boasted of a proposal to recycle their non-leaded CRT panel glass into cement products and its being given a “Beneficial Use Determination” by the DEP. A scan of their website today makes no mention of the recycling process. This week’s fire reveals a large number of CRTs accumulated at the site, stored both in and out of doors. The DEP forbids outdoor storage of electronic waste.
“While the details of the arson and CRT inventory have yet to be revealed, this case appears to be another chapter in the troubled history of US electronics waste management,” said BAN Executive Director Jim Puckett. “Accumulation of CRTs and outdoor storage can be illegal and unsafe. Exporting untested or non-functional used electronic equipment without authorization is a violation of international law. The lesson here is that customers need to be sure that they only use the most responsible recyclers available.”
In 2009, BAN created the e-Stewards® Standard and Certification to improve upon the shortcomings of the “R2” Standard. e-Stewards Certification forbids outdoor storage, harmful exposure of toxins to workers, as well as violations of the spirit and letter of the Basel Convention. CRTR is certified to R2 but not to e-Stewards. Consumers and businesses are urged to make use of the more than 75 e-Stewards Certified Recyclers. Alternatively, consumers can opt to take their e-waste to any Staples store and it will be sent onward to an e-Stewards Certified Recycler.