Mercury Thermostats: Turning Quicksilver Into Gold
This blog was published in the August issue of US Boiler Report: original article here.
One of the most commonly asked questions staff from the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC) receive while conducting outreach is, “So what is it you guys do, exactly?”
To put that question to rest, today I’ll lay it out plain and simple: we do exactly what our company name says we do.
The Thermostat Recycling Corporation recycles mercury thermostats. Founded voluntarily in 1998 by Honeywell, White-Rodgers, and General Electric, TRC was established as a non-profit product stewardship organization with the goal of ensuring the toxic elemental mercury found in thermostat switches doesn’t end up back in the environment. This is accomplished mainly by distributing recycling bins to HVAC wholesale distributors, contractors, and local county recycling facilities around the country.
Establishing TRC was probably the right call, because in the 18 years or so TRC has been operating, the business has recovered more than ten – count ’em – ten tons of mercury. Do you know how much ten tons actually is? I’ll give you a visual. Picture a full-grown polar bear. These giant fluffy terrors weigh about half a ton. Now picture twenty full-grown polar bears. If you can imagine all twenty of those polar bears stacked on top of one another, that’s about the same weight of mercury TRC has kept out of our waterways.
But enough of the bragging, how does knowledge of TRC apply to readers of U.S. Boiler Report? Well, TRC does about 80% of its work exclusively with HVAC contractors and wholesalers because studies and years of experience have shown that HVAC contractors are the people who are by far most likely to take a mercury thermostat off the wall. This leaves the fate of mercury thermostats quite literally in their hands. When a contractor removes a mercury thermostat from service, that thermostat is going to end up one of two places – the trash or a recycling bin. TRC is here to make it as easy as possible for that thermostat to end up in a recycling bin.
TRC doesn’t do this just because it’s the right thing to do but also because there are regulations regarding mercury thermostat disposal. Not only is it illegal to throw away any mercury thermostat removed from service from a commercial building, but 13 states have enacted laws that mandate the recycling of any mercury thermostat removed from service by a contractor. For example, New York Title 29 (Mercury Thermostat Collection Act) Section 27 – 2909 Article 3.1 states,
“Any person or contractor who replaces a mercury-containing thermostat from a building shall deliver the mercury-containing thermostat to an appropriate collection site.”
Seems pretty straightforward: “Thou shalt recycle mercury thermostats!” It’s not part of the Ten Commandments or anything, but it is the law. Fines for contractors who throw away mercury thermostats can reach up to $500.00, so vigilance is key for sparing the piggy bank a painful and unnecessary gutting.
To save Mr. Piggy Bank and make compliance with regulations as easy as possible, TRC has over 3600 recycling bins distributed around the continental US. There are 13 states that require HVAC wholesale distributors to have a mercury thermostat recycling bin present at their store. The rest of the state collection locations do it anyway because it is the right thing to do, customers appreciate environmental services, and because like most human beings when they hear “free service” they tend to say “yes please.”
There are financial reasons to participate in TRC’s program other than the penalty fees for non-participation. While disposal using TRC’s program is free for contractors, contractors are still able to charge customers for the service of proper disposal. From there, it makes sense to offer to replace the old mercury thermostat with a more energy efficient programmable thermostat, which not only is more “green” but saves money on the energy bill. If charging for services like proper disposal isn’t your thing, it is still a distinguishing and marketable service that customers tend to appreciate. How does an HVAC contractor stand out from the pack? The answer: excellent customer service that meets the demands of a wide range of expectations, including those customers who appreciate or even demand environmental services as part of their home renovations.
It usually costs $25 to participate in TRC’s program, but readers of U.S. Boiler Report can participate for free as long as they mention this article while signing up. Signing up is easy. Before you ask, yes, it is far easier than stacking twenty full-grown polar bears on top of one another. TRC has a website with a quick sign-up form, or the lovely customer service employee at the office is always available to pick up the phone and sign up locations directly to spare customers the effort.
The Thermostat Recycling Corporation can be reached through its website, www.thermostat-recycle.org, by email, [email protected], or by phone, 1-888-266-0550. If you visit the website, don’t be alarmed by the pictures of children holding chainsaws on our front page – we’ll tell you that story some other time.
If nothing else, always remember: Recycle every mercury thermostat, every time.