Two More States Pass Thermostat Recycling Laws
California and Pennsylvania recently joined four other states in passing comprehensive laws enforcing the proper collection and recycling of mercury-containing thermostats. These new state laws are based on model state legislation developed by the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) with input from thermostat manufacturers, heating and cooling contractors and wholesalers, retailers, environmental groups, and government officials. PSI's model shares responsibility for safe thermostat recycling among all these groups and provides a menu of options from which states can choose.
"While thermostat manufacturers have the most responsibility to reduce the toxicity of their products and remove them from the waste stream, other stakeholders, including consumers, have key roles in thermostat collection and recycling," said PSI Executive Director Scott Cassel. "Mercury is one of the biggest health hazards found in everyday household products, and the proper recycling of these products is essential to protecting the environment."
Many thermostats currently in use contain mercury, a naturally occurring toxin that can affect the nervous system. Although no mercury is released when these products are intact, when disposed of in an improper fashion, they can cause mercury to be released into the environment. While sales of mercury-containing thermostats are on the decline as manufacturers have shifted production to non-mercury digital thermostats, there are still an estimated 50 million mercury-containing thermostats in homes throughout the United States. Fifteen states now have laws that ban or restrict the sale of mercury thermostats, but they can still be legally sold in the remaining states. The four states that preceded Pennsylvania and California with collection and recycling laws for the products are Maine, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
Most manufacturers no longer produce mercury-containing thermostats, so the problem lies predominantly in the collection of mercury thermostats removed from homes and offices. PSI is helping states develop a common methodology to set baselines for thermostat recovery and to measure progress. Maine and Vermont include performance goals for thermostat recycling in their laws, as well as financial incentives for contractors and homeowners to encourage recycling. California and Iowa's thermostat laws require their state environmental agencies to develop the performance goals. All six states tout the energy-saving benefits of digital thermostats. PSI is advising additional states on how to adapt the PSI model program for their own unique circumstances, with an eventual goal of federal legislation.
For a comparison of state mercury thermostat laws, see PSI's State Thermostat Legislation Comparison at www.productstewardship.us/associations/6596/files/State_Thermostat_Legislative_Comparison_10-17-2008.pdf. For general information about mercury thermostats, go to www.productstewardship.us/thermostats.