The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) and the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC) have partnered with the states of Indiana and Oregon, along with Portland General Electric, to offer a financial incentive for recycling thermostats that contain mercury. Under the year-long pilot project, which began in January 2006, HVAC contractors in the two states will receive a rebate coupon for $3 (in Indiana) or $4 (in Oregon) toward the purchase of a new, non-mercury, ENERGY STAR® qualified thermostat.
HVAC contractors will collect the old thermostats and deliver them to a participating wholesaler in exchange for a rebate coupon. The contractor will then purchase the new energy-saving thermostat, mail the coupon along with proof of purchase to TRC, and receive a rebate check. The aim of the project is to test whether the size of the incentive affects the rate at which contractors recycle the thermostats.
PSI obtained a $50,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant to determine if offering a financial incentive to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractors results in increased recycling of these devices. Environmental officials say that improper disposal of mercury thermostats is one of the largest sources of environmental mercury contamination from consumer products.
“PSI is testing other projects with TRC that increase awareness and create new opportunities to recycle thermostats, but this project goes an extra step by offering contractors a financial incentive to protect the environment,” said Scott Cassel, PSI’s executive director. “If this model proves successful, it has the potential to increase the number of mercury-containing thermostats that are recycled.”
“TRC has been successful in getting contractors to recycle mercury thermostats in the past, but we’d like to get to the next level,” said Mark Kohorst, TRC’s executive director. “We’re confident this project will be effective and look forward to undertaking other initiatives to help grow the program nationwide.”
“This project is an excellent example of product stewardship, in which industry and government can work together to solve an environmental problem,” said Loretta Pickerell, solid waste policy and programs manager for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Mercury pollution is a serious problem across the nation, with many rivers and lakes subject to mercury fish advisories. Many people get exposed to mercury by eating contaminated fish. One source of mercury deposition in the environment is mercury-containing products. These products can lead to contamination when thrown in the trash, where they might be crushed, incinerated, or otherwise mismanaged in a way to cause airborne releases, after which mercury falls back to earth in rainwater.
Recycling mercury-containing thermostats is an effective way to address this problem, which is why thermostat manufacturers established the Thermostat Recycling Corporation in 1998. The program initially ran in only eight states, but expanded to include the 48 contiguous states in 2001.