The increase in the use of electronic equipment all over the world has occurred without the development of safe disposal strategies. These products are characterised by fast technological change, for example, the switch from cathode ray tube (CRT) to LCD and plasma screen technology. This means they often have a short lifespan and therefore present a significant challenge in terms of waste disposal. According to the Spanish Institute of Statistics, 99% of Spanish households have television sets and 54% own a computer, representing 10 000 tonnes/year of waste in Spain alone. The number of televisions and computer monitors being discarded is likely to increase at both national and European level because of the cessation of analogue radio and television broadcasting. This will involve the withdrawal of televisions with CRT technology that cannot incorporate digital technology. In the case of CRT glass, which includes contaminants such as lead, barium and phosphorus, it has no real alternative use and, therefore, must be safely stored or landfilled. The Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) aims to promote recycling, reuse and recovery of waste generated when equipment is obsolete or beyond use. In line with the "polluter pays" principle, producers are responsible for associated waste management costs.
The main objective of the ECO-VITRUM-TRC project was to demonstrate the possibility of applying a new integrated management model and technology for CRT televisions and computer monitors that enables their reuse as raw material for the development of new products.
Specific objectives included:
The project actions should promote employment in the municipalities through the establishment of control services in ecoparks in Valencia.
The ECO-VITRUM-TRC project demonstrated the possibility of applying a new integrated management system, for electronic waste containing cathode ray tubes (CRT), to transform it into a raw material for construction. This integrated management system looked at the entire process for electrical and electronic waste: collection, transportation, selection and treatment. It was developed using new methodology for the characterisation of different types of CRT glass; a study of possible applications of CRT glass in construction materials; improvements in waste storage and transportation; the design and implementation of a pilot plant to decontaminate all kinds of CRT glass; and the establishment of a quality code for the treatment and decontamination of CRT glass.
Environmental awareness campaigns initiated by the project helped minimise the uncontrolled dumping of televisions and monitors. The development of a code of good practice improved the management of TVs and monitors at municipal collection points, thus increasing their recycling rate. Around 1 000kg of small electrical equipment was collected during the campaigns.
A pilot container was designed by the project team for the storage and transportation of waste electrical equipment. The use of this innovative infrastructure, in the ecopark operated by Cullera City Council, minimised the theft and breakage of TVs and monitors, thus facilitating their recycling.
The pilot processing plant, operated at Recytech (the first plant in Valencia approved for the treatment of WEEE), was capable of treating 6 000 tonnes/year of CRT glass, equivalent to 15 000 TV sets and computer monitors a month. The prototype plant was able to handle all types of CRT glass, including that from fragmented and contaminated TVs and monitors. This had all been previously sent to landfill due to lack of treatment facilities and lack of market demand for its reuse.
During the project, 3 000 tonnes of CRT glass (200 samples) was prepared and tested at laboratory level in AIDICO (a construction technology institute). This material was sent to Esmalglass, a producer of components for the ceramics industry, who used it in the industrial scale production of ceramic components. The different materials produced from this recycled glass comply with the current regulations governing construction materials, and they have also passed various internal and external quality and environmental controls for their use in the market. From now on it is possible to use 100% of CRT glass waste to make these ceramic components.
The project showed that CRT glass has an optimal use in the ceramic components industry as a substitute for commonly used raw materials, given its similar chemical composition, thus achieving the transformation of a waste into an economically-viable resource. It was initially possible to replace 15 to 25% of natural raw materials by CRT glass, with reductions in the consumption of silica, barium and strontium oxides, in full compliance with the aims of the flagship initiative for a resource-efficient Europe. Through this system the project managed to reduce CO2 emissions into the atmosphere by two tonnes (based on the estimate that recycling a TV or monitor involves a reduction of 21 kg of CO2 because materials do not need to be manufactured). Furthermore one job was created: a specialised worker managing WEEE in the ecopark.
The potential for transfer of the project’s results to other European Union countries is high, as ceramic component manufacturing processes are highly standardised throughout the industry and as the viability of using the innovative equipment and system has been demonstrated at real scale.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).