Project 7: Develop HVAC Contractor Outreach Strategy

In April 2006, Maine Governor John Baldacci signed into law a legislative agreement that PSI mediated among thermostat manufacturers, environmental groups, and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (ME DEP). The law was the nation’s first financial incentive to recycle thermostats that contain mercury, and the first law to require thermostat collection for residents. Key elements also include aggressive performance goals and a requirement that all manufacturers offer a thermostat recycling program.

The PSI project explored the effectiveness of a financial incentive for the return of mercury thermostats in the homeowner market through two channels – collection at local HHW or Universal Waste Facilities, and a homeowner mail-back program. The financial incentive was subsequently added to Maine's program, as mandated by the Maine law, where Maine’s Universal Waste shed collection system became part of the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC) program. Before 2006, local governments collecting thermostats had to manage and pay for all thermostats they collected.

The homeowner market is substantially different from the wholesaler/contractor market. While contractors typically purchase numerous thermostats at a time, homeowners will buy one thermostat and install it soon after purchase. PSI explored the provision of a rebate coupon, redeemable for cash, which was provided to homeowners who returned a thermostat to the HHW facility, or who mailed one in from home. The project was the first to test a financial incentive for homeowners.

PSI's Role

Under the Maine thermostat law, all manufacturers must "provide a financial incentive with a minimum value of $5 for the return of each mercury-added thermostat by a homeowner to an established recycling collection point." In 2007, PSI participated in a ME DEP stakeholder group that discussed the most effective way to implement the law’s homeowner incentive.

PSI assisted in program design, implementation, and evaluation.

  • Design: PSI conducted outreach among its existing stakeholder contacts to promote the project. Following development of a project contact database, PSI facilitated four stakeholder conference calls to discuss the issue, propose options, and design a financial incentive add-on component to the HHW/UW shed thermostat collections, as well as design the mail-back pilot project. As part of the project design, PSI outlined the data needs for the project and designed the database to collect project information. PSI facilitated the development of educational/promotional materials. PSI conducted two half-day stakeholder meetings to obtain feedback on the project design elements.
  • Implementation: PSI developed a joint press release with stakeholders to announce the pilot mail-back program, along with the details of the municipal-based financial incentive. PSI conducted 4 conference calls over the 8-month implementation period to gauge progress, identify problems, and brainstorm joint solutions.
  • Evaluation: To evaluate the municipal-based financial incentive, PSI conducted 15 stakeholder interviews and conducted two stakeholder conference calls to design the evaluation. PSI analyzed the data collected, and prepared a draft and final report based on stakeholder feedback received during a half-day meeting.

Project Results

 Design of the Homeowner Incentive Program began in January 2007. The ME DEP was tasked with developing a two-phased plan, through a stakeholder process, that specified the incentive to be paid to homeowners by August 1, 2007. By March 15, 2007 and annually thereafter, ME DEP is required to submit a report on the collection and recycling of mercury-added thermostats in the State to the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over natural resources matters. The report must include a description and discussion of the financial incentive plan and recommendations for any statutory changes concerning the collection and recycling of mercury-added thermostats.