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The Long Goodbye: 46 Percent of Households Still Have At Least One CRT Device

Walter Alcorn and Jason Linnell

For decades, the Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) was the dominant display technology for the screens in our homes and offices. While CRTs have been replaced by newer display technologies, they are still dominant in one area: consumer electronics recycling programs. 
How Many CRTs are Left?
A new survey by CEA, along with an analysis from the National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER), shows how far we have to go in removing CRTs from households. When asked if they still had CRTs in their home – either in use or in storage – 46 percent of households reported having at least one  CRT device. TVs are much more common with 41 percent of households reporting at least one CRT TV, but there are also 21 percent of households still using or holding on to at least one CRT computer monitor. NCER has been tracking the average weights of CE devices returned in recycling programs and estimates that this would translate to roughly six billion pounds of TVs and one billion pounds of monitors still in US households. 
So, where does this leave us in our quest to responsibly manage the legacy of CRTs awaiting recycling? The new results show that there is still a significant amount to capture but seven billion pounds over the next decade or so is not impossibly high.  Data from the 25 state law programs, which typically collect roughly 70 to 75 percent of CRTs by weight, show annual collection on the order of 700 to 800 million pounds.  And CEA members participating under the eCycling Leadership Initiative have a goal of collecting one billion pounds annually by 2016. 
How CRTs are Disposed and Recycled

The survey also asked consumers how they got rid of their old CRT TVs and monitors over the last five years. Here, 44 percent of households reported getting rid of a CRT TV within the past five years, most by donating (45 percent) or recycling (41 percent). A smaller percentage (20 percent) put the TV in the trash, which is still legal for households in most of the country. Only 27 percent of households said they removed a PC monitor within the past five years, with slightly lower numbers for donation (37 percent) and recycling (34 percent), but identical numbers for trash disposal (20 percent). Using estimates from this survey, and from a recent MIT study in which NCER also participated that correlates well with these results, shows an estimated three to four billion pounds of CRTs collected for reuse and recycling over the last five years.
Taken as a whole, these new data give us important new pieces of the challenging puzzle that is managing legacy CRTs. Now that we know the approximate size of the pile left in households, stakeholders can continue to work on the bigger challenges of limited markets for leaded CRT glass and the proper role for regulations.
However, the infrastructure for collecting old CRTs in the US is more robust than in past years, and resources like can point consumer to responsible local recycling opportunities. Working together we can all do our part to close this last chapter on the display technology that first brought video into the home.