Recycling Program Saves Mercury From HVAC Industry

By Tonya Vinas An industry-sponsored program to recover mercury from thermostats has resulted in 900 pounds of the chemical element being recovered in the United States since 1998, the year the Thermostat Recycling Corp. (TRC) was founded. TRC, a private corporation established by thermostat manufacturers Honeywell International Inc., General Electric Co., and White-Rodgers (a division of Emerson Electric Co.), collects mercury-switch thermostats voluntarily deposited at wholesale sites by heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) contractors. Wholesalers send full recycling bins, roughly 1,000 of them at sites in 48 states, to TRC's recycling center. TRC removes the switches and sends them to a mercury-recycling center. Ric Erdheim, executive director of TRC and senior manager for government affairs for National Electrical Manufacturers Assn. (NEMA), says the founding companies don't make money on the recycling program. In fact, they lose money but still see worthiness in the program, which is administered by NEMA. "The companies want to continue to sell the product, but they know there are environmental issues with the product," Erdheim says. Mercury is considered a hazardous substance, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and can damage the human nervous system. Erdheim said mercury-switch thermostats are the most common type of thermostats used in the HVAC industry. The program is free to contractors and costs wholesalers a one-time $15 fee for the container. So far this year, TRC has processed more than 255 pounds of mercury.

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