Seeker Spotlight: Consumer Electronics Association

By InnoCentive

Walter-Alcorn - CEAWe recently posted a Challenge with the Consumer Electronics Association and Environmental Defense Fund as part of our EDF/InnoCentive EcoChallenge Series.  The Challenge seeks financially viable, environmentally-beneficial business models based on the repurposing of recycled Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) glass from used televisions and computer monitors.  We spoke with Walter Alcorn, Vice President of Environmental Affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association about the Challenge and the importance of solving this critical environmental issue.

Hi Walter – thanks for agreeing to talk with our Solvers today.  Your Challenge, New Uses for Recycled Glass, specifically calls for new uses for CRT screens, once the standard for televisions and other types of monitors.  How big a problem is used CRT glass for the environment?

The disposition of used CRT glass is a serious resource conservation and recovery issue.  Although used CRT glass is inert while still intact as old TV and monitor tubes, CRT glass contains a significant amount of lead that could be released into the environment if processed inappropriately or mismanaged.

Safe recycling is a big deal for my industry – the consumer electronics industry. Last April we announced the eCycling Leadership Initiative with an ambitious Billion Pound Challenge to more than triple the amount of electronics recycled annually by our industry from 300 million pounds in 2010 to one billion in 2016.

CEA eCycling ProgramThese billions of pounds of recycled electronics need to be recycled responsibly and the materials put back into productive use.  By weight, more than half of all collected consumer electronics are old televisions and computer monitors, and the heaviest component of most of those products are CRTs. For decades, CRT was the technology of choice in the display industry but during the past decade, demand for CRTs has dropped drastically as newer flat-panel technologies like LCD and plasma have become affordable and widely available. Until now most CRT glass collected for recycling was cleaned up and recycled into new CRT units, but the market for new CRT displays is now nearly gone.  Uses for CRT glass with lead (e.g., funnel glass) is particularly challenging.

Why did you choose to pose this Challenge to the InnoCentive Solver Network?

We needed raise the visibility of this situation beyond the recycling industry.  New applications for CRT glass, and potentially new processing technologies are needed to appropriately recycle this material.  We are excited about the encouraging response from the Solver community with more than 250 project rooms opened in the first 2 weeks.   Hopefully this is a sign that economically and environmentally viable uses for CRT glass truly exist.

What will you do with the solution once it has been selected? Are you hoping to take it forward and would you consider working with the Solver to further develop the solution?

We are a trade association so our capability for direct participation in the solution is limited, but our plan is to make the winning solution(s) public and raise the awareness of both the problem and identified solution(s) to help create market demand for used CRT glass.

Are there other problems that might benefit from the solution to this Challenge?

New uses for CRT glass will reduce the demand for use of virgin materials and extractive activities such as lead mining, thereby providing an additional resource and environmental benefits.  There might also be solutions that could be applied to other materials recovered from consumer electronics, or more likely relevant to other materials recovered from products in other industries.   We’ll just have to see!

Once you have a solution to this Challenge, what’s the next issue you’ll be tackling?

Given the pace of technological change in the consumer electronics industry we will continue to keep an eye on markets for recycling old electronics.  The CRT challenge stands above all others at this point.

What would you like to tell Solvers who are thinking about participating in this Challenge?

We are looking for creative solutions that work both economically and environmentally.  There are at least 2 billion pounds of old CRTs still in use or ready for recycling in the U.S. alone, and globally several times that amount.  Thank you for helping us find good uses for  all that old CRT glass!

Sounds great – thanks Walter, and good luck with your Challenge!

This content is cross-posted on InnoCentive's Perspectives on Innovation Blog.