BELLEVILLE — Jim Schnipper, who runs S.A.V.E. Inc.'s electronics recycling program, faces a Catch-22 when it comes to getting rid of the pallets of old-fashioned televisions that fill the agency's warehouse at 620 N. Illinois St., and another warehouse at the S.A.V.E. campus in Freeburg.
On one hand, a nationwide glut of the leaded glass extracted from old-fashioned TVs has made it impossible for S.A.V.E., which employs developmentally disabled adults, to make money from the recycling of the TVs, which contain cathode ray tubes full of toxic materials.
On the other hand, an Illinois law prevents S.A.V.E from simply dumping the TVs in a landfill because of the leaded glass' toxicity.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on a federal law that would require S.A.V.E. to pay hefty fines if it keeps to the TV sets for more than a year.
"For right now we're stuck with them until we figure out what to do," Schnipper said of the unwanted TV sets.
Back in November, Schnipper imposed what he thought at the time was a temporary moratorium on accepting the old-fashioned CRT TVs. Back then, the big electronics manufacturers, such as Samsung and Sony, had hit their quotas for the year on how much leaded glass they must buy back under Illinois law.
But a huge glut of old TV sets overwhelming recycling centers in Illinois has undermined the economics of recycling. Bottom line: the moratorium on accepting old TVs will continue indefinitely, Schnipper said.
"We're still looking around, were still trying to work on it," Schnipper said. "But right now we're not having a whole lot of luck."
Even so, the agency continues to accept a wide range of other electronics, including game controllers, cellphones and printers.
David Walters, the manager of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees electronics recycling in Illinois, acknowledged that S.A.V.E. and other TV set recyclers face what seems like an intractable problem because the number of unwanted cathode ray tube TVs stands "at the top of the graph."
But the passage of time should make the problem more manageable as the CRT televisions make up an increasingly smaller percentage of all TVs.
As more flat screen TVs enter the market, the number of unwanted cathode-ray TVs will drop, Walters said.
"People are hoping that with all the flat screen TVs, we're at the top of this graph, and you'll start seeing those numbers drop," Walters said.
Up until late last year, S.A.V.E.'s e-recycling program had proven a big hit because of a state law that took effect Jan. 1, 2012, that bans all computers and other electronics from entering Illinois landfills.
S.A.V.E. started its electronics recycling program more than 16 months ago as a way to take advantage of the landfill ban, using it as a launchpad to provide jobs for its clients.
St. Clair County helped out with a $25,700 grant to help S.A.V.E. pay for modifications to the building's warehouse loading dock.
Don McFarland, the green development director at Secure Recycling, of Dixon, which used to buy TVs from S.A.V.E., said the glut of leaded glass from old-fashioned TVs stems from legislators in statehouses across the country passing well-intended recycling laws. These statutes mandated recycling and banned many toxic materials, such as lead glass, from landfills.
"As more states developed more legislation saying you can't put this into the landfill anymore, and you force it into the recycling chain, that created a lot more volume," McFarland said. "Simultaneously, the demand for cathode ray tube glass dropped," he said. "So that was a double whammy. ... So the issue is, 'What are we going to do with the leaded portion of the glass that no one seems to want.'"
McFarland proposed the launch of a national competition to devise safe ways to re-use the CRT leaded glass.
"What we need to do is develop some way of utilizing that glass," he said.
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2533.