Thermostat Recycling – Don’t Trash Your Old Mercury Stats!
At HVAC.com, our writers create solutions that put you in control of your HVAC system. Our product reviews and recommendations are researched and backed by real buyers and industry experts, not dictated by our partners.
Environmentally friendly products and services have taken on a significant role in the HVAC world over the last several years, and thermostat recycling is near the top of the list. As consumers have become more environmentally conscious, looking for ways to lower their energy consumption, much of our industry’s environmentally friendly focus is placed on energy savings – but that’s certainly not the only way we work to protect the environment!
Contractors and distributors throughout the country recycle thermostats to keep dangerous mercury from contaminating our Earth. The Thermostat Recycling Corporation is the organization that makes it happen for us.
About mercury thermostats
Scottish chemist Andrew Ure invented the modern bi-metallic thermostat in the 1830s. His concept was used by thermostat manufacturers for over a century, leading to those iconic round or square metallic thermostats you probably remember from your childhood!
Bi-metallic thermostats utilized long metal strips which would expand at differing rates, as different metals were used. They also contained a mercury bulb; when the bulb came in contact with the strips, it the mercury inside would move to the other end of the tube, causing the thermostat to switch over.
Mercury – a danger to you & the environment
Many people are exposed to mercury through the environment. When mercury is released into the environment, it is turned into methylmercury by bacteria, and will bioaccumulate in shellfish and fish. Contact with elemental mercury is also hazardous, and typically occurs when working with mercury and products which produce it, such as in industrial environments and coal-burning facilities.
According to the World Health Organization, mercury exposure is a major public health concern. Methylmercury exposure while in utero can impair neurological development in children, affecting language, memory, cognitive thinking, fine motor skills, visual spatial skills, and attention. Mercury exposure in children and adults can result in neurological and behavioral issues, kidney toxicity, digestive tract issues, and lung issues. It can be fatal if inhaled or ingested.
New thermostat options
These older thermostats do contain mercury, but that doesn’t mean you have to run out and replace it right away if you have one in use still – though you may want to because new programmable and smart thermostats are a really useful tool when it comes to helping you save energy and better control your HVAC systems.
While mercury thermostat technology was the standard for decades, these thermostats are being phased out in favor of environmentally friendly and more effective models, such as electronic programmable thermostats. Mercury thermostats are manual thermostats, meaning you’ll have to adjust it yourself every time you wish to change the temperature inside your home.
Mercury thermostats – handle with care
A mercury thermostat holds 3 to 12 grams of elemental mercury – it’s typically the largest source of mercury in homes. The mercury within a thermostat is much like the materials inside a compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL) – it’s safe as long as it’s contained.
When mercury thermostats are discarded with everyday trash, it is likely that the mercury bulb within the thermostat will bust at some point, and the mercury will escape. When the mercury from an old thermostat is no longer contained, it becomes a dangerous hazard to the environment.
Thermostat recycling – did you know…
- Mercury cannot be destroyed – but it can be recycled and reused.
- Recycling mercury thermostats can be expensive because they are considered hazardous waste; the expense can lead to their illegal disposal, or lack of disposal.
- In thirteen states, mercury thermostats cannot be thrown out with your regular trash. HVAC contractors are required by law to recycle all mercury thermostats they remove.
- In eight states, mercury thermostats are banned from being installed.
The Thermostat Recycling Corporation
The Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing simple, free solutions for recycling mercury thermostats. Supported and funded by members of the HVAC industry, the organization’s goal is to protect the environment by keeping mercury out of waste.
Founded in 1998 by three major thermostat manufacturers, the program has experienced widespread growth, allowing more to benefit from their efforts. Today, 29 manufacturers support their initiative, and more than 2.1 million mercury thermostats have been collected through the thermostat recycling program – the program has kept 10 tons of mercury out of the world’s waste stream.
How the program works
TRC has made recycling old mercury thermostats simple for all HVAC contractors. There are over 3,600 collection points across 48 states where these thermostats can be dropped off for safe and proper recycling; in fact, nine states require HVAC wholesalers to act as collection points for thermostat recycling. Contractors are also able to sign up to serve as their own collection point; TRC provides these participants with the supplies needed to safely shipped for recycling.
Good for Contractors & Consumers
Mercury spills are extremely expensive to clean up – costing as much as $300,000 for one incident! The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency legally rules over all mercury releases, and has the power to compel responsible parties to take action and/or pay for the cleanup. Neither HVAC contractors or homeowners want to be on the hook for such a serious issue with a steep financial impact.
TRC is good for contractors and consumers, as they provide a reliable, safe, and affordable means to dispose of mercury thermostats. There is little to no cost for contractors to participate in the program, which means they can offer thermostat recycling without charge. Contractors have a simple and safe way to dispose of the thermostats they collect on the job, therefore avoiding potential hazards and penalties for improper disposal. The thermostat recycling program is an added incentive contractors can pass to their customers, and a strong selling point among consumers who are looking for environmentally friendly services and solutions in the HVAC space.
Consumers benefit from the thermostat recycling program, too. The burden of properly disposing of their old mercury thermostats is eliminated, without additional fees. While TRC only offers free recycling for mercury thermostats, they do promote the recycling of other mercury-containing items through a partner environmental service company.