Mercury Thermostats
Mercury Thermostats

The Problem

Thermostats made before 2009 contain mercury, a potent neurotoxin that can damage the brain, heart, kidney, lungs, and immune system, and impair the developing nervous system of children and unborn babies. Although mercury thermostats are no longer sold in the U.S., they last for 30 to 50 years and many homes and offices around the country still use them.

These thermostats should not be put in the trash. They can release mercury into the environment during the disposal process, poisoning wildlife -- including the fish we eat.

The Solution

PSI advocates for thermostat “extended producer responsibility” (EPR) laws, which require thermostat producers to sustainably finance and run convenient recycling programs. Well-crafted EPR programs ensure adequate public outreach and provide free, convenient thermostat collection for building owners and contractors.

To date, 13 states have passed EPR laws for thermostats. Unfortunately, some of these laws were weakened during the legislative process and perform less well than those that follow PSI’s best practices. PSI monitors the lessons learned from existing programs to help these states strengthen their laws and empower other states to pass well-crafted legislation.

The best EPR programs, like those in Maine and Vermont, boast the highest thermostat recycling rates in the country because they provide a $5 minimum reward for each mercury thermostat returned. EPR laws also level the playing field among producers and fairly allocate program costs among all industry players, so that no single company is at a disadvantage.

Mercury thermostats need to be carefully collected and recycled when they come out of service. Voluntary HVAC industry programs, like the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC), are helpful but limited -- only 8% of mercury thermostats are currently recycled nationwide. The fee to get a collection bin (currently $25 in most states) is a barrier to entry and funding for public outreach is inadequate.

How We’re Leading the Way

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PSI’s thermostat EPR legislative model incorporates best practices and lessons we have learned over the years though pilot projects, program research and evaluation, and national strategic workgroups with our members from Maine, Vermont, and other states leading the EPR movement. This evidence-based model is your roadmap for an effective thermostat EPR law program. For bill development and lobbying assistance, contact our team.

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We bring people together to improve and expand access to thermostat recycling. PSI forged multiple agreements with TRC, the HVAC industry, and other stakeholders to extend TRC’s thermostat take-back service to wholesale chains, contractors, municipalities, and retail stores. We also facilitate multi-stakeholder workgroups to advance thermostat recycling in states without EPR laws. Today, we are working with rural municipalities to make thermostat drop-off accessible for low-income communities.

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We develop toolkits and resources like educational webinars, model policies that are complementary to EPR (local demolition/renovation ordinances and utility contract language), and best practice guidance to help you voluntarily increase the safe collection of mercury thermostats in your community.

How You Can Help

State and Local Governments

Contact the PSI team for assistance to pass a new thermostat EPR law or update an existing EPR law to improve performance. You can also sign up with TRC to participate as a thermostat collector. A collection bin costs only $25.

Retailers, Contractors, Recyclers

Sign up with TRC to collect mercury thermostats from your customers. For only $25 per collection bin, you will benefit from customer appreciation and increased foot traffic. Contact PSI to learn how you can advocate for an EPR law that will pay you for each thermostat you recycle.

Consumers

When it’s time to retire your mercury thermostat, find a drop-off location near yous or take your old thermostat to your local household hazardous waste collection program.

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