Mercury-Thermostats: Collection ProgramsPrint Friendly Page
Mercury switch thermostats are a common item in many households. The presence of a mercury thermostat itself is not a problem. However, when a thermostat is disposed of in the regular trash, the mercury can be released to the environment and cause damage.
Some U.S. states and municipalities have attempted to determine the contributions of individual mercury-containing products to the total mercury load in their solid waste streams. Mercury-switch thermostats have been found to be a significant contributor to the total mercury load, normally ranking within the top three contributors. (Other significant mercury contributors are fever thermometers and fluorescent bulbs.)
Mercury thermostats were included in the 1995 Federal Universal Waste Rule. (See Mercury Hub, Regulatory and Policies section for additional information). Since then, many states have included mercury thermostats as items collected during household hazardous waste events.
In 1998, the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC) was established as a private corporation by thermostat manufacturers Honeywell, General Electric, and White-Rodgers. The TRC manages a collection and recycling program for mercury thermostats. Under this voluntary program, customers of participating heating and air conditioning wholesalers can drop off any brand of old mercury thermostats for recycling. Wholesalers collect the thermostats in bins supplied by TRC. When the bins are full, wholesalers send them to TRC's recycling center where the switches are removed and forwarded to a mercury recycler. Some state environmental agencies have assisted this effort by placing bins at additional wholesalers and advertising the program to the wholesalers' customers.
Mercury thermostat collections are a good opportunity to raise awareness about mercury in general, about fish consumption advisories and about what can be done with other common household products that contain mercury.
Sources: Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, "Mercury Source Sector Assessment for the Milwaukee Area," September 1997; Maine Department of Environmental Management, "Mercury-Added Products in Maine's Solid Waste," December 1998; http://www.nema.org.