Management and Disposal of Mercury-Containing Products

For mercury-containing products that are already in use, it is important to store and handle them safely to avoid potentially harmful spills or releases. Products that contain mercury should be safely managed at the end of their useful life.

Mercury-containing devices should be stored in a safe place in a solid leak-proof container in such a way as to avoid breakage. Mercury containing items may be stored in original packaging or equivalent (i.e., cardboard boxes with packaging). They should not be stored in a place where they are likely to break or be readily accessible to those not knowledgeable on the dangers of mercury.

Elemental mercury and mercury-containing waste mercury are considered hazardous waste, unless the materials are generated from a household. General information on the transportation, disposal and recycling requirements for hazardous waste can be found on Illinois EPA's Bureau of Land's website.

Below are several programs for collecting and properly disposing of used or unwanted mercury-containing products:

  • The Illinois EPA's Household Hazardous Waste Collection Program accepts bulk mercury and mercury containing items from citizens and households. This includes thermometers, thermostats, wall-mounted switches (made prior to 1991), paint made before 1992 and fluorescent lamps. This service is free. Collection events are normally held in the spring and fall.
  • Honeywell, General Electric and White Rodgers established the Thermostat Recycling Corporation (TRC), a non-profit corporation, to recover and recycle unwanted thermostats that contain mercury switches. Twenty-two manufacturers have since joined the program. Under the program, thermostat wholesalers, contractors, and retailers can sign up and pay to receive a special container for collection of the thermostats. Shipping and recycling costs are borne by the manufacturers. Once the container is full, it is shipped back to TRC and a replacement container is sent back to the participant.
  • For businesses, institutions, and other facilities, certain mercury containing devices can be recycled under state and federal universal waste regulations. "Universal wastes" are hazardous wastes that pose a relatively low risk compared to other hazardous wastes. The regulations governing the management of universal wastes have been streamlined to ease the storage requirements and facilitate the recycling of such items. The Illinois Pollution Control Board has designated the following mercury-containing wastes as universal waste in Illinois :
    • Mercury thermostats
    • Fluorescent lamps
    • Mercury switches and relays
    • Scientific instruments and instructional equipment containing mercury added during their manufacture

    For a list of recyclers that may take used or spent mercury-containing products from businesses and institutions, visit the Illinois EPA and U.S. EPA websites.