Environmental groups collect mercury

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | C&G Newspapers | Published March 2, 2015

 A tub of thermostats containing mercury is prepared to be shipped off for recycling from the Southeast Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority last year.

A tub of thermostats containing mercury is prepared to be shipped off for recycling from the Southeast Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority last year.

File photo by Deb Jacques


OAKLAND COUNTY — Residents and small businesses in Michigan can once again take advantage of a free, mail-in mercury collection program through Sept. 30.

Funded by the state, the program is hosted by US Ecology Inc. — formerly Environmental Quality Co. — an environmental managing service company. Residents and businesses can contact US Ecology Inc. to receive a free collection bucket/box and instruction kit for recycling items containing mercury. Containers vary in size, depending on what is to be recycled, and are delivered to the residence or business with a return UPS label.

Qualifying items containing mercury include hydrometers, barometers, industrial switches and fuses, thermostats, relay switches/gauges, medical devices, manometers, lab thermometers and thermometers. Compact fluorescent light bulbs will not be accepted due to the minimal amount of mercury vapor in them and because many recycling organizations accept the light bulbs, according to Judy Napier, business manager for US Ecology Inc.

Materials collected will be consolidated and put through a thermal oven process. The items are then burned down, allowing US Ecology to capture 99.99 percent of the mercury, Napier said. The mercury is then stored according to Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Because mercury is not a commodity like it once was, there is no value in the element. Some of the mercury can be reused — like in fluorescent lights and computers — but it has to remain in the U.S. and stored under certain regulations, Napier said.

“Mercury really is honestly one of the most toxic wastes that’s out there. Even recycling the smallest amount is extremely important,” Napier said.

Once mercury leaches into the land and water, it remains there, Napier added.

“Recycling is everyone’s business today. So why not take advantage of the state offering a free program to do so?” Napier said.

During the 2014 collection, 665 pounds of mercury were collected, a 210 percent increase over 2013.

The program recycled the following:

• 347 hydrometers
• 25 barometers
• 1,318 industrial switches and fuses
• 594 thermostats
• 584 relay switches/gauges
• 13 medical devices
• 2 manometers
• 134 lab thermometers
• 462 thermometers

Napier attributed the surge in mercury collection to her company’s outreach efforts and using social media for advertising.

“It’s hard to get people to participate in an awesome program like this, but to get the word out is the most difficult part,” Napier said.

US Ecology Inc. was first awarded the program by the state of Michigan in early 2013. Because of the success, the state decided to run the program again. However, Napier said that because the state is working from a fund, she is not sure if the program will run next year.

“This was only supposed to be a one-time thing. I can’t be comfortable knowing they’ll extend it another year or not,” Napier said.

Though the program does not accept compact fluorescent light bulbs, there are various organizations in Michigan that will take the bulbs.

Residents living in the Southeast Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority’s 12 member municipalities can take advantage of both curbside and drop-off residential recycling programs, and the organization does recycle mercury.

While SOCRRA accepts items from residents, it does not collect from businesses. SOCRRA does accept mercury beads from chemistry sets as long as they’re in a sealed container; however, it does not accept broken thermometers.

West Bloomfield Township does not participate with SOCRRA but hosts two Household Hazardous Waste Day collections a year. Millie Gray, organizer for the Household Hazardous Waste Day, said the spring collection will take place from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. April 25 at the West Bloomfield Civic Center, on Walnut Lake Road.

Thermometers, electronics and fluorescent light bulbs will be collected during the event. Additional items — including pool chemicals, household cleaners, batteries, insecticides and paint — will be collected, as well.

For a list of items collected at West Bloomfield Township’s Household Hazardous Waste Day, visit www.wbtwp.com.

To request a free bucket/box and instruction kit from US Ecology Inc., call (877) 960-2025 or email mercurybucket@usecology.com.

For more information about SOCRRA or to schedule a household hazardous waste collection appointment, visit www.socrra.org.