As California’s Recycling Regulations Go, So Go the Nation’s?

Posted by on December 22, 2011

WP-California-Recycling-RegulationsCalifornia’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) and the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) are grappling with an issue that may soon affect other states as well: how to handle excess CRT glass in ways that protect human health and the environment.

As early as 2001, California’s DTSC declared that the disposal of electronic waste, including CRT devices and CRT glass, in municipal landfills was prohibited under existing hazardous waste rules. To ensure these devices did not end up in landfills, DTSC simplified CRT collection and recycling by creating two new universal waste classifications— consumer electronics and CRT devices. These classifications protected public health and the environment, yet exempted electronic waste from full hazardous waste regulation. In 2003, California adopted its Electronic Waste Recycling Act and became one of the first states to address the need for environmentally responsible disposal of obsolete electronics.

Under California’s current universal waste rule, CRT glass is only exempt from full hazardous waste regulation if the glass is treated in one of two ways: either it is sent to a lead smelter or it is sent to a CRT glass manufacturer. But just eight years after the passage of the Electronic Waste Recycling Act, the transition away from clunky computer and television CRTs to sleek flat-panel models has had the unexpected consequence of transforming the market for CRT glass and forced California regulators to rethink the state’s CRT glass processing standards.

California regulators have so far held two public meetings—one in September and another last month—to discuss proposed changes to the regulations governing CRT glass management. The most striking change to the regulations would allow recyclers to send CRT glass to a hazardous waste landfill if they can demonstrate that no environmentally sound and economically viable market exists for the glass.

DTSC advocates recycling CRT glass; however, a discussion of hypothetical management scenarios during the meeting demonstrated that the proposed regulations do not encourage that. It will be cheaper and easier to dispose of panel glass in a landfill using the exemption permitted under the new regulations than to use the same material in a new product. The extent to which California modifies its regulations to allow recyclers to send CRT glass to landfills may be a regulatory and environmental bellwether for other states that currently ban CRT monitors and televisions from their landfills.

Although DTSC expects to finalize this new regulatory language by the end of the year, recyclers and landfill operators still have questions about the ramifications the changes will bring to their operations. “Regardless of DTSC’s decision, Sims Recycling Solutions will continue to do what we have always done with CRT glass and that is recycle it in a manner that safeguards both public health and the environment,” said Steve Skurnac, President, Sims Recycling Solutions, Americas. “For us, sending this material to a landfill is not an option because Sims adheres to a zero landfill policy on all electronic products and components of electronic products.”

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