Panasonic Using Lasers for Faster, Better CRT Recycling

abandoned crt tv photo

Photo via takomabibelot via Flickr CC

As of last year, 704.9 million cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions have been sold just in the USA since 1980, according to the EPA. 42.4% were estimated to still be in use. But when the switch to digital TV was announced, worry about the e-waste impact of many of those remaining TVs surfaced. Only 18% of CRTs were being recycled, but awareness has tightened over the last year thanks to groups like the Electronics Take-Back Coalition and their push to get manufacturers to take back and recycle TVs. Well, Panasonic has been known to be gruff with the group, yet it's come up with a technology to recycle CRT TVs that might make the company a little friendlier towards being responsible with their end-of-life products. They're using lasers! Panasonic's Laser Beam Recycling Method
There's been a bit of a hubbub over the last week about Panasonic's new recycling method for CRTs. Mainly it's because it uses lasers, and everyone loves lasers. According to Panasonic, they wanted a more efficient recycling method so they could better address the influx of TVs they're seeing after the switch to digital, which is continuing through 2011 in Japan. So, they are using laser beams to more quickly and cleanly separate the front panel and back part of cathode ray tubes, which are different types of glass and so need to be recycled separately.

Panasonic's CRT recycling technology utilizes laser radiation to drastically reduce the processing time with much less manual work, allowing one tube to be processed in 50 seconds, three times faster than the previous method. The laser head of the innovative system has a "surface profiling" function to maintain a constant distance between the focal point and surface of the glass. Coupled with the "radiation energy" control adjusting laser beam light intensity to the circumferential velocity, the system achieves a high quality cut with no mixing between the front and funnel glass.

PC World reports that the new method is not only three times faster than the old method when dealing with specifically this part of the process, but that the speed carries out through the rest of the recycling process. It allows single operator to handle up to 72 CRTs per hour, which is three times more than the old method.

Panasonic is working to perfect the method, which is being used at Panasonic Eco Technology Center (PETEC) in Kato, Japan. They want the process to run smoothly since they're expecting as many as 650,000 sets to pass through PETEC in 2011 when Japan switches to digital.

What Better Recycling Technology Means for e-Waste
Having fast, efficient methods of recycling is great for getting manufacturers to take the lead on recycling their own products, something that we need to see happen in much larger numbers. With the switch to digital, consumers are going out with the old, in with the new. But if they aren't getting recycled, that equates to a lot of lead in landfills, or worse, abandonment. The Bureau of Land Management fears an increase in how many TVs are dumped on public lands as well. With new technology for faster recycling, manufacturers will be more inclined to boost take-back programs, and help us avoid e-waste on a large scale. That's why we're glad to hear Panasonic isn't stopping with CRT recycling, and is also looking into utilizing lasers for recycling flat panel TVs.

Check out this video from G Word about the typical process for recycling TVs. It'll help boost your e-waste IQ.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch
More on the impact of the switch to digital
How Will the Digital Television Transition Impact the Environment?
Today is Digital TV Switch Day, Don't Turn it Into Toxic E-Waste Day
Don't Kick Your TV to the Curb for the Digital Television Transition

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