"Several years ago, we knew recycling CRTs was going to be a dramatic problem for every state," said Jennifer Posda, associate director of Science Development at the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology. "The regulation of recycling was changing, and it was clear it was going to affect all state and local governments. We knew financing a project that could help solve such a critical problem would be important, not just in New Jersey, but everywhere. This project gives us a chance to help develop technology that can be used immediately and put money back into the economy."
Posda said the water jet technology is already being transferred to China, a country that's had a unique struggle with technology. Originally China purchased older computers from the United States because they were behind in the technology race. But as technology continued to improve, the Chinese discovered the older models wouldn't run newer software, and they soon ran out of uses for them.
"They realized the technology had changed so rapidly they couldn't use them either," Posda said. "Their solution was to put a fire to it, just melt it down. But when they saw that it killed the rice fields nearby, they quickly realized they couldn't do that anymore. Now this technology is being transferred to them, so they can clean up their big pile of old computers."
New methods like those developed at NJIT may become even more critical as the crackdown on computer recycling continues. Three years ago, Massachusetts became the first state to ban the disposal of electronic equipment containing CRTs into landfills and incinerators. Today, almost every state has regulations in place.
Massachusetts served as the proverbial guinea pig for other states in dealing with recycling legislation, and the law in Massachusetts did not go over smoothly.
Many claim the law equates to an unfunded mandate for the state's cities and towns, which had to pick up the cost of recycling through community recycling programs. Cities and towns responded by supporting a bill that would effectively force the companies that make and sell computer equipment to recover their products once they reach the point of obsolescence, potentially saving the localities $21 million a year.
Critics say the bill, currently before the Legislature, would put an unfair strain on technology companies already struggling as the economy has slowed.
Caudill said the NJIT program, if implemented on a wide enough scale, could help save states like Massachusetts the trouble of battling technology companies.
"If we can provide a better method of cheap, mass recycling, it could help solve all of those problems in a fairly simple way," he said.