The supply of recycled CRTs and televisions, laden with hazardous lead, is booming. Unfortunately, the demand for this e-waste has crashed. As a result, recycling firms are going out of business and abandoning the waste, leaving toxic dumps for the states and federal government to clean up. The market is upside down.

In 2004, recyclers were paid more than $200 a ton to provide glass from these monitors for use in new cathode ray tubes. The same companies now have to pay more than $200 a ton to get anyone to take the glass off their hands.

Even worse, there seems to be no recycling market at all for LCD screens.

Ian Urbina does the grim reporting.


Christopher Kompanek profiles Tony-winning designer Donyale Werle, who specicializes in using salvaged, recycled, and upcycled materials in her sets.

“You get this stuff and you wrestle with it,” [Werle] explains. “Materials and colors can be anything. All the time, I’m like, ‘Okay, this is what we’ve got. This is what’s in front of us. How do we use it?’”


Hugh Powell reminds us of the connection between wine bottle closures and the preservation of biodiversity. Cork prices are crashing, which threatens cork oak plantations on the Iberian peninsula.

Cork trees live for about 250 years, growing in open groves interspersed with meadows of tawny grasses and diverse wildflowers. Once a decade, skilled workers with hatchets carefully slice off an inch-thick jacket of bark, leaving the tree to grow it back. There are cork farmers right now slicing cork from the same trees that their great, great, great grandparents harvested. In all, some 13 billion corks are produced each year, slightly more than half of them in Portugal and the rest in Spain, France, Italy, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. It’s a $2 billion industry.

The skilled labor pays well, and the farmers can also keep livestock on the land. While they’re at it, the farmers keep a delicate balance in their forests, avoiding overgrazing but keeping shrubs from taking over, setting controlled fires and putting out fierce ones.

Among conservationists there’s a real fear that as cork prices fall, the cork oak forests will deteriorate or be converted into eucalyptus plantations or Mediterranean resorts.

More cork

Audubon Naturalist Society eNews reports:

As we gather with families and friends over the next few weeks to celebrate holidays and other special occasions, chances are there will be bottles to open. And when you open that champagne, wine, or cider why not save the cork for recycling? All natural corks can be dropped off at any of three Cork & Fork stores — in Bethesda, MD; Gainesville, VA; or downtown Washington — or at any Whole Foods Market. The Cork & Fork stores have partnered with ReCORK, and Whole Foods is working with Cork ReHarvest. The effort aims to help sustain cork forests and turn used cork into useful products, such as shoes, flooring tiles, building insulation, and sports equipment. So, cheers and recycle on!

A green line

I got a chance to read Tyler Colman and Pablo Päaster’s white paper, “Red, White, and ‘Green’: The Cost of Carbon in the Global Wine Trade,” which is summarized in Colman’s post.

The authors perform a detailed analysis of the carbon footprint (in terms of greenhouse gas emissions) of the production and distribution of a bottle of wine for consumption in the United States. The independent variable in their computations is the location where the wine is produced—Australia, France, Argentina, or California. Although they also analyze the effects of different agricultural practices (organic farming as might be typical in the various regions) and other links in the chain (such as CO2 released by fermentation), it turns out that the predominant carbon contributor is the means of shipping the finished, bottled wine and the distance that it must be shipped. For instance, for delivery to Chicago, a hypothetical 750ml bottle of wine from the Napa Valley produces almost 4.5kg of carbon dioxide; 3kg is accounted for by truck shipment from California. By contrast, wine from France, which is shipped by relatively efficient container ship, produces 2.0kg; and even here, shipping accounts for more than half of the total. The other significant components include the production of bottles, land use, and consumption of oak for in-barrel aging.

The results enable the researchers to draw a “green line” across the Midwest and South: to the east of this line, it’s more emissions-efficient to consume wine shipped from France than trucked from California (or Washington, presumably). Of course, if you’re fortunate enough to live in a state that produces its own drinkable wine (like I do, in Virginia), an even better choice would be the local tipple. Buying by the 1.5l magnum also helps: as they say, “shipping wine is often really about shipping glass with some wine in it.”

Two other asides: First, a footnote gives the nod to the general sustainability of cork as a bottle closure. Second, the writers note that growing grapes requires a lot of water for what you harvest: 1.2 to 2.5 megaliters per hectare, or 550 kiloliters per ton of grapes. This is partly due to the fact that grapes don’t yield a lot of mass per hectare, compared to a crop like corn.

Turn in your yogurt cups

Robert Siegel surveys the state of recycling programs in three suburban D.C. counties. He makes a good point about the “stickiness” of programs and what waste they accept—one that should be obvious, I suppose.

County Executive Isiah Leggett announced that Montgomery was going to begin accepting a wider range of plastics at the curb, including tubs and lids. Until recently, the county only accepted plastic bottles.

Montgomery County’s recycling center manager, Tom Kusterer, told me that until a few months ago, there was no market for those types of recycled plastics, but they’ve recently found clients who will buy the plastic to turn it into plastic lumber, plastic pallets and plastic flower pots.

Here’s a catch with recycling: Once a county or a city decides to accept, say, plastic tubs and lids, it’s pretty hard to tell people two years later—sorry there’s no more market for that stuff. So these decisions tend to be for keeps.