Auto Switches

The Problem

Mercury, a potent neurotoxin, was used as a component in convenience hood and trunk lighting switches, as well as in some anti-lock brake and airbag G-force crash sensors, in vehicles prior to 2003. On average, each mercury auto switch contains approximately 0.8 grams of mercury. When vehicles are "junked"—that is, when they are shredded or crushed—without these mercury switches removed beforehand, they release mercury into the environment, contaminating our air, waterways, and land. Automakers have phased out mercury switches in new vehicles; however, mercury switches are still available for collection from thousands of older cars that come off the road each year in the U.S.

A Solution

In an effort to reduce mercury releases, ten major auto manufacturers formed End of Life Vehicle Solutions (ELVS), a nonprofit that promotes recycling and proper management of vehicles through voluntary collection programs. Through ELVS, businesses such as auto recyclers, salvage yards, and vehicle scrap processors are given the opportunity to sustainably dispose of the toxic components that come from recovered vehicles.

In 2006, ELVS established the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recycling Program (NVMSRP). Under the NVMSRP, all auto recyclers received a financial incentive of $2 for each mercury switch returned to ELVS – until the voluntary incentive fund was depleted in July of 2009. In 2013, PSI worked with Illinois EPA to temporarily raise the incentive to $4 in Illinois; this resulted in increased switch collection and led PSI to recommend an increase in ELVS’ financial incentive from $2 to $4.

Today, recyclers may continue sending mercury switches to ELVS through the ongoing voluntary program. However, only those in states with mandatory programs—either an auto switch recycling law (AR, IL, IA, MA, NJ, RI, UT, MD) or a state-funded program (NC, SC,WA)—continue to receive financial incentives to motivate auto switch collection.


PSI's Role in Delivering Solutions

Administers Implementation Support

With funding from the US EPA in 2013-2014, PSI partnered with the Illinois EPA on a pilot project to increase the collection of mercury-containing products through increased financial incentives. Under the Illinois Mercury Switch Removal Act, Illinois auto recyclers are paid $2 each for convenience lighting and ABS switches; the project provided an additional $2 per switch for convenience lighting switches, and $4 for each switch from anti-lock braking systems and airbag crash sensors. To further encourage increased participation, the program also offered a one-time $100 “first bucket bonus” to auto recyclers who had not returned auto switches for recycling since September 2011.

Provides Technical Assistance 

PSI’s 2013-2014 pilot project to increase the collection of mercury-containing products involved an extensive outreach campaign, including mailings (via email and post), phone follow-up, and an informational poster.

On an ongoing basis, PSI provides technical support for stakeholders to launch a new  auto switch collection initiative or modify an existing program. PSI has carried out research and outreach in partnership with local governments, recycling and household hazardous waste centers, retailers, and environmental groups to increase recycling of auto switches, among other products, in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and the Northeast. PSI has developed outreach materials for local governments, residents, and auto-recyclers in targeted areas through USDA-funded product stewardship outreach in rural areas programs.

Advocates for EPR Legislation

PSI monitors, informs and advocates for product stewardship legislation for auto switches. We offer expert testimony supporting EPR legislation for hearings. Currently 15 states have EPR laws related to of auto switch stewardship.

We provide exclusive legislative resources for PSI Members and Partners – login or learn more.

Brings Stakeholders Together

PSI facilitates conversations between stakeholders so that state and local governments, and even federal agencies, can create programs and develop solutions that address the need for convenient, safe disposal of auto switches.

Creates Toolkits and Online Resources

PSI provides tools for governments, NGOs, auto-recyclers, and other stakeholders that wish to start or promote auto switch take-back programs.


To view existing product stewardship laws in the U.S., visit our State EPR Laws page. To view pending and active legislation in the U.S.privileged content available exclusively to PSI Members and Partnerslogin here.

For more information, please contact Scott Cassel at (617) 236-4822. 

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