The Scoop on Mercury Thermostats

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With a growing number of states enacting thermostat recycling laws, information regarding these programs is becoming increasingly vital. This growth in concern is riding the current wave of debate regarding extended producer responsibility (EPR), the concept that manufacturers and vendors are responsible for the cost of managing their end-of-life products in an environmentally responsible way.

Following suit, Earth911.com recently joined forces with the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC), a not-for-profit organization that facilitates the collection and proper disposal of mercury-containing thermostats, to increase its listings throughout the remainder of this year for thermostat recycling and disposal locations across the country.

Photo: Wikimedia.org

According to WasteCap of Massachusetts, one mercury-containing home thermometer has the capacity to contaminate a 20-acre lake with enough mercury to result in a fish consumption warning. Photo: Wikimedia.org

According to Mark Tibbetts, executive director for TRC, “The primary mechanism for the program is to provide opportunities for HVAC contractors to dispose of those thermostats, as a vast majority are generally removed by tradesmen.” TRC has provided this form of collection for the last three years.

“The great thing about the program [for retailers], beyond the one-time initial participation fee of $25, it’s absolutely free. Increasing access, raising awareness and making it free makes it convenient and really will drive participation on the program. We’re so excited,” said Tibbetts.

Tibbetts also added that due to the increase in do-it-yourself (DIY) home repair, their program saw a need to expand these services to everyday consumers. They expanded their program to include household hazardous waste (HHW) and actively started working with retailers last year.

“If folks are aware of the program, it’s really easy and convenient and at no cost, then we believe that will be the incentive they need to do the right thing. Many people aren’t aware that their old thermostat contains mercury. It’s perfectly safe hanging on wall, but it should be recycled,” he added. “It’s the last piece of the puzzle.”

Although new mercury thermostats are virtually an obsolete product, TRC collected just a little more than 135,000 last year alone, and at an average of 3 grams of mercury per thermostat, that’s a significant reduction in landfilled mercury.

Tibbetts said the mercury-containing portion of the thermostat goes to an environmental firm that recycles it. The mercury is used again in products such as CFLs.

He noted that mercury-containing thermostats are “not inexpensive to dispose of.” When it first began, TRC had already collected approximately 800,000 thermostats – in the absence of any legal mandate (TRC began this before any legislation was in place).

Founded 11 years ago by the three largest manufacturers of mercury thermostats to create a convenient and easy means for the recycling of mercury containing thermostats, “TRC is one of first producer responsibility organizations in the United States,” according to the TRC Web site.

Recently, California and Pennsylvania joined Maine, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont in passing laws enforcing the proper collection and recycling of thermostats containing mercury, according to Environmental Protection.

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