TRC Blog

Recycling and a Degree of Proportionality

Posted Jan 8, 2018 by Ryan Kiscaden

As I approach my second anniversary as Executive Director at Thermostat Recycling Corp. (TRC), I spend considerable effort urging businesses and consumers to recycle their mercury-filled thermostats.

Sometimes, my intensity in these endeavors and TRC’s broad marketing efforts might seem to diminish the issue of proportionality regarding mercury thermostats contribution to the environmental stream.

 It is unquestioned that mercury in the environment, regardless of the source, is a health hazard.

It is further unquestioned that mercury contamination from thermostats played a role in this blight.

What concerns me at times, however, is an issue of perception: Mercury from thermostats has always been a very modest contributor when judging it by its volume into the environment.

For example, if you look at mercury emissions by air, it is a disproportionately larger contributor to mercury into the waste stream when compared with products containing mercury.

There was also concern raised in the past from mercury entering our water streams and the issue of the public potentially eating fish that contained mercury. In recent years, the Environmental Protection Agency has loosened the guidelines for mercury consumption, with the clear implication that the source of mercury contamination from that source has decreased.

There is a bottom line in this: Gold mining and combustible sources dominate the landscape when assessing what are the largest contributors of mercury into our environment. One volcano blast can emit more mercury into the atmosphere than 10 years of effort by consumers.

At TRC, we point out that mercury thermostats are a sliver of a sliver as a contributor of mercury into the environment.

This is not to minimize either its potential health hazard or its entry into the environmental stream. But it does suggest a degree of proportionality is in order.

And while we’re talking about this issue of proportionality, it’s appropriate to mention our manufacturer partners, who have responded to this issue with a thoughtful, thorough and relentless commitment to fixing the problem. These efforts included millions of dollars in alerting the public and the commercial sector. And beyond that, the implementation of a safe recycling effort — now nationwide — that works. Indeed, without these efforts on the part of our partners, TRC would not exist.

We have done our share of recycling by collecting more than 2.1 million thermostats, diverting more than 10 tons of mercury from the ecosystem across 48 contiguous states.

My effort to explain the actions by TRC is not a boastful effort vis-à-vis our mission nor bragging about the commitment of our partners toward offering a solution. Rather, I believe that as we are about to embark on a New Year, this is an appropriate moment for a timely pause that allows us to restate our position and role in the marketplace.

Others have taken notice. For example, a Boston Globe article noted that a “2014 study found that mercury pollution in Massachusetts had dropped by 90 percent since 1990s.”

We can credit this drop directly to TRC’s program along with material separation plans that the Waste to Energy (WTE) movement has in place, which has diverted tons of mercury.

In our instant news cycle, we sometimes overlook the context or proportionality of crucial but difficult topics. Mercury-filled thermostats and the efforts to recycle them are no exception. What is important is the constant reminder that while the mercury thermostat contribution to the environment is tiny, we are committed to recycling all of it.