The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

May 5, 2011

Save Plastic. Don’t Break Your Laptop Monitor.

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.

broken laptop monitor

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.

broken laptop monitor

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.

broken laptop monitor

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.

broken laptop monitor

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.

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20 Comments on "Save Plastic. Don’t Break Your Laptop Monitor."

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Not going to lie, those pictures make my heart sink. Surprisingly, I have never done anything like that to my screen. I have cracked my phone’s screen a few times, but not my laptop yet. I hope that I never have to replace it, but if I do, I think I will be fine just replacing it myself. I tend to be pretty savvy when it comes to computer repair. Even though laptops can be hard to take apart, I know how my works pretty well.

I know your post was a year ago, but I am just now stumbling upon it. I too, broke my screen. My normal schedule of setting my laptop down next to the bed (my bed is low to the floor) before I went to sleep proved to be a mistake when my 3 year old woke me up one day, while standing on it. The crack slowly spread and I tried to hold out as long as possible changing it. Then about a week or so ago I put my backpack on the back of a hanger (which I have… Read more »

This is a sad story. My laptop (6 yrs old) has needed a new battery for a while, and my husband kept telling me we should buy a new laptop instead b/c this one was about to die any second and the battery was so expensive, but I just couldn’t do it. And, FINALLY, he found a knock-off battery for $50! Yea! Who knows what the company’s footprint is and all that, but I figure if it saves me from buying another laptop for a few more years, so much the better.

Do you remember where you bought your battery? Mine is completely dead. The computer will only work while plugged in… which is mostly fine. Maybe I don’t even need a new battery. Can a laptop work forever with a dead battery as long as it’s plugged in?

Fascinating info… Thanks for sharing your adventure! :)

Ack! Sorry to hear about your laptop. I also had pet-related misfortune with my computer this week, involving a large cup of water and an adorable but curious cat.

I got an error message when I tried to click on the links for: “As you know, I’ve fixed an old pillow, a blow dryer, a laundry basket, and even a washing machine.”
I’d love to see how you fixed a laundry basket. We have an old plastic basket with broken handles. We still use it, but every time Gordon does laundry he threatens to toss it!!

Ouch, Beth! I’m sorry to hear about your misadventure. I will remember that Sweet Memory is not worth it. (We just go with Apple if things break, since we’re an all-Mac household, but hooee they’re not cheap.)

Flo, your post totally inspired me. How awesome that you realized you didn’t really need whatever it was. It just kills me that so many people have drunk the consumer-vs.-citizen, buy-buy-buy Kool-Aid. :)

My hubby broke my laptop monitor when the cat jumped on his lap unexpectedly which caused him to send the mouse flying into the monitor. We purchased a new monitor on amazon for around 100 and luckily my dad knows how to install them… well, at least he understood how to follow the on-screen instructions we found online. I can’t say it was very eco-friendly, but it was a lot cheaper than I was being quoted from repair shops.

We ALL break stuff doing stupid things, alas.
I don’t even want to begin to think of all the things I regret breaking out of haste, or naivety, or sheer thoughtlessness.
My newest plastic regret is sending my contractor out for stainless steel shower curtain rings, thinking I would virtuously avoid plastic, and ending up with two glossy plastic boxes with rings in them. Argh.
I will return 1 box and send the packaging back to the manufacturer.

Our city collects electronics at the curbside for responsible recycling. How cool is that? Check out the awesome ad here:

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

Thanks so much for this! A while ago, my mom accidentally packed my laptop away badly underneath the car seat and I discovered it with a broken screen. I still have the broken screen so I’m glad to know what I can do with it now! More out of economic reasons than anything else, I chose to repair it myself having heard from MANY people that it’s very easy to do yourself. It did take a little bit of time but it really wasn’t that hard and TRUST ME – I am no good at these things. I’m hoping it’ll… Read more »
Thank you for your post, Beth. Recently I was given an Acer laptop to use. I’ve been a desktop user. So i’ll be careful with my pens and pencils, also will pass on this information on recycling to others. Driving around town, I often see e waste on the curbside, even though we have a hazardous waste and e waste facility in a central location. I am tempted to make up postcards and drop them off in mailboxes where stuff in at the curb. It seems like I read somewhere about the computers sold in the EU, having restrictions on… Read more »

Beth – your post was great, I read avidly to the very end expecting to find out the dollar amount of the repair but you never mentioned it. Laptop parts are like car parts and washing machine parts – you could buy at least a couple of new ones for the price of replacing all the parts on one. I wanted to get a new handle for my fridge – just a piece of white plastic – $65!!!

You admitted you deliberately closed the buds in the laptop – no doubt about it, you are one honest person.

That’s one of the few things I don’t like about laptops. They are extremely difficult to repair, upgrade, or even replace a faulty card yourself :( If a desktop computer will work for you, another option other than buying a used computer is to build it yourself (or pay someone to do it.) I can use and reuse certain components like my monitor, network card, hard drives, CD/DVD drives and case over and over. My husband and I swap out parts between us (each of our computers are built to our own personal specs.) Dead machines and our tub of… Read more »

Thanks for posting this beth… I have found an E-cycler for my dead laptop and other nasty waste like those odd 6 foot light tubes through your link to the E-steward recyclers. Great post!

My second hand computer died last week. Took it to the shop, but it is finished. It will go to a localish program that takes apart old computers and makes them into new ones in Vancouver. A friend gave me another laptop to use in the meantime that I could keep if I wanted, but it is very slow. Now I am on the hunt for a new, used computer – arghhh – due to all the chemicals in computers (many of which contribute to war in the congo) I hate having to purchase another one (even if used)…let alone… Read more »

Great cautionary tale! I’m a big believer in buying good-quality stuff and taking good care of it for this reason — solid cases for cell phones and iPods, that kind of thing. In the long run your stuff lasts longer, you save money, avoid the need for repairs and consume less.

“Jim couldn’t tell me what the actual compound is because apparently, that’s proprietary information.” Oh, la la. This post just reinforced my conviction that we must all support Senator Frank Lautenberg’s Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, now before Congress. The bill calls for the regulation of the toxic chemicals we encounter every day. Please ask your Senator to become a co-sponsor.

Love your site!! Ive been working at de-plasticizing my home and work space for about 3 months now. I find it to be a fun challenge .
I am realizing how much crap I really don’t need.
At one point I walked into the pharmacy thinking I needed a few things ,
then realized I could live without all of it . I’m saving a ton of money being
plastic conscious, not to mention how impotent it is for me to tread lightly
on our fragile planet.