What is an LCD monitor made of? And what do you do if it breaks? I learned the answers to these questions the hard way.
The Stupid Thing I Did
Laptop monitors break easily, as I discovered a couple of months ago after closing the lid down on a couple of earbuds I had left on the keyboard. The ironic thing is that I had done it on purpose, trying to protect my expensive thinksound earbuds from my niece’s dog while I went to the bathroom. I learned that a laptop monitor is way more expensive than a pair of earbuds, and that the best option would have been to simply put them away in their case.
My heart sank when I opened my laptop back up and watched the words drizzle down the screen into a single black puddle. I’ll admit it looks kind of artistic in a minimalist way, but not very useful.
Crap! I just got this computer in November, and I’ve already ruined it!
Thankfully, Michael still had an ancient desktop computer monitor I could connect to and keep working while I figured out how to get the laptop monitor fixed. And thankfully, he hadn’t listened when I urged him to give it away in an effort to simplify our lives. That old thing definitely made life simpler for me for a few weeks.
How to Fix a Laptop Monitor
What do you do when a laptop monitor breaks? I had no idea. Would I have to replace the entire computer that I so proudly purchased secondhand back in November? Well, of course not. You just replace the screen, silly. Any computer repair place can do it for you, but you’ll probably have to wait while they order the part, which I did. And did. And did. I don’t recommend Sweet Memory in San Francisco for this job, by the way. They took too long and charged too much. And that’s all I’m going to say. But finally, they did replace the screen.
There are also tons of instructions online for how to replace a broken monitor yourself. As you know, I’ve fixed an old pillow, a blow dryer, a laundry basket, and even a washing machine. But this time, I was not so adventurous. I didn’t want to risk ruining my computer completely.
By the way, a repair guy told me the most common way people break their monitors is closing them down on a pencil or pen they’ve left on the keyboard. Remember: keyboards are for fingers. Nothing else.
So what do I do with the old screen? And how much of it should I add to my plastic waste collection? The back is obviously made from plastic.
What about the front? And the insides? I realized I had no idea what an LCD screen is made of or how it should be handled. So I contacted Redemtech, a certified e-steward company that refurbishes and recycles computers, and spoke with Jim Mejia, the company’s vice president of environmental affairs. He was nice enough to chat with me from the airport while he waited for his plane!
What is an LCD monitor made of?
According to Mejia, an LCD monitor is made of the following materials:
1) Liquid crystals. The stuff that leaked into a black puddle on my screen. Liquid crystals are a carbon-based material with magnetic properties. Jim couldn’t tell me what the actual compound is because apparently, that’s proprietary information. The manufacturer of liquid crystals will only say that the material is inert.
2) Glass. The outside of the screen is protected by high quality fiber optic glass.
3) Plastic films. After the glass are layers of plastic films that protect the liquid crystals.
4) Fluorescent light containing mercury gas. Mercury, of course, is toxic. This is one reason monitors should be turned in to a certified e-steward recycler.
5) Circuit Board containing heavy metals. The most common offenders are lead, cadmium, and copper. Jim has even seen arsenic. Another reason to dispose of them properly.
How are laptop monitors recycled?
Companies like Redemtech take the monitors apart and recycle all the materials back into the industry. They separate the metals for reuse. The liquid crystals are sent to a special treatment facility in Pennsylvania. The mercury is sent to a mercury retort operation, where it is re-liquified and recycled back into the industry. The plastic and glass are recycled as well.
It’s important to find a reputable recycler so your broken device isn’t shipped off to China to pollute the environment overseas. Here’s a list of e-steward recyclers. I’ll take my broken monitor to GreenCitizen in San Francisco. It’s the closest to me and easiest to get to.
Recording the Plastic
As you know, I collect and tally all my plastic waste. (This year, I’ve decided to do it every 4 months, since the amount is so small these days. I’ll post a tally next week.) So how much does the plastic in the monitor weigh? I’ll just have to make a guess. As I’ve said, the monitor is full of toxic chemicals, so I’m not going to take it apart to collect the plastic, a comparatively less problematic material.
Don’t Break Stuff!
So, once again, I learn a valuable lesson. Being careful with our stuff in the first place is the greenest thing we can do. If we don’t break stuff, we don’t have to worry about how to fix or recycle it. And it saves us a boatload of bucks, too.