Cathode ray tubes or CRTs are found in computer monitors and televisions. This piece of electronic equipment is usually the heaviest, least valuable, and most difficult to recycle of all recyclable electronics. The reason that CRTs are problematic is that they contain large quantities of lead and phosphor coatings. Lead provides shielding of x-rays which are found inside the vacuum of the CRT tube. The phosphor coatings emit different colors of light when exposed to the radiation inside of the tube. Neither the lead nor the phosphor coating in the tube pose a problem for the environment as long at the tube is in tact. However, some recyclers remove only the copper yoke which is the only valuable piece on the CRT and then improperly dispose of the remaining parts of the CRT.
Improper recycling of CRTs poses a threat to the environment. Lead can leach into groundwater. Breathing in lead dust or phosphors is hazardous to human health.
Many states are addressing the CRT disposal problem by preventing the disposal of CRTs in landfills. Currently more than 20 states have CRT and electronic recycling legislation.