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Going Digital? Don't Toss the Old Thermostat in the Trash

PHOTO: A new report, “Turning Up the Heat II,” finds voluntary mercury thermostat recycling programs aren't keeping enough of the devices out of Idaho landfills. Photo credit: Stephen Cummings
PHOTO: A new report, “Turning Up the Heat II,” finds voluntary mercury thermostat recycling programs aren't keeping enough of the devices out of Idaho landfills. Photo credit: Stephen Cummings
April 18, 2013

BOISE, Idaho - Voluntary efforts to keep mercury thermostats out of the trash in Idaho aren't keeping enough of them out of the landfill, according to a new analysis.

Programs run by manufacturers capture only a small portion of the thermostats when they get replaced by digital devices, said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project.

"We estimate that, nationally, only about 8 percent of the available mercury thermostats are being collected," he said, "and, as a result, about 50 tons of mercury got into the environment."

The report ranks Idaho 25th among the states in its mercury thermostat collection rate. Mercury and most of its compounds are extremely toxic, and exposure can lead to a variety of physical, cognitive and behavioral problems.

To improve the turn-in rate, Bender said, there should be a state ban on discarding mercury thermostats in the trash. In addition, he said, incentives have been shown to work in some states, such as offering $5 for each one that's turned in.

"It's mainly directed at heating and ventilation, air-conditioning contractors," he said, "and what we're trying to do is convince them it's worth a little extra time to bring those in."

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 2 million to 3 million thermostats go out of service annually. Each contains an average of four grams of mercury.

The report is online at mercurypolicy.org.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID