California Orders Changes to
Thermostat Collection Program.
Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin which, like lead,
interferes with normal childhood development. The health
concern it poses is well-known and severe. And yet a 2009
industry study estimated the number of mercury thermostats
in California to be between 5.1 million and 10.5 million. At
four grams of mercury per thermostat, these thermostats
contain between 22.5 and 46.2 tons of mercury. The mercury
in those thermostats—if improperly disposed—enters our
waterways, then our seafood, and ultimately our bodies.
Today, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control
finally demanded huge improvements to the way that
manufacturers collect mercury thermostats in the state,
including providing financial incentives for homeowners.
Over the next year, manufacturers will partner with
retailers in at least three California cities. When
homeowners return old mercury thermostats to these
retailers’ collection bins, they will receive a gift card
worth $5.00 or $10.00. Homeowners returning mercury
thermostats to Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) facilities in
the state will receive a $10.00 incentive payment, in the
form of a mail-in rebate or gift card.
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Large HVAC, general,
and demolition contractors will also receive incentive payments
under the program revisions approved today. They will receive
$2.50 per thermostat. HVAC wholesalers will receive between
$1.00-$2.50 for each thermostat collected, depending upon how
many are returned in a collection container at one time.
The Department of Toxic Substances Control is reacting to the
thermostat manufacturers’ lackluster collection program. Under
legislation passed in 2008, the Department issued
precedent-setting collection goals in 2013 for the recycling
program. Unfortunately, the manufacturers have not come close to
meeting these 2013 goals, and recent data indicates the program
has gotten worse.
In 2014, the manufacturers collected the equivalent of 22,178
mercury thermostats in California. The regulatory collection
goal was 95,400. The following year, they collected almost 10
percent fewer thermostats—and only 16 percent of the 2015
collection goal of 113,850.
In states where the law requires a financial incentive, the
programs have been much more successful. For example, Maine and
Vermont require a $5 incentive to contractors and homeowners. In
2015, the per capita collection rates (per 10,000 people) in
Maine and Vermont were 34.3 and 31.9 respectively, compared to
just 4.7 in California.
The manufacturers also lack an on-the-ground presence in
California, effectively trying to run the program from Virginia.
Consequently, to date, they have conducted very little personal
outreach to HVAC contractors or other key stakeholders. More
detailed and comprehensive outreach activities are now required,
with additional activities to be proposed in February and June
Many of the improvements ordered by the Department were
previously recommended by NRDC and our partners. The
Department’s action today is the beginning, not the end.
Vigilance by the Department, NRDC and our partners, and other
stakeholders will be required to ensure the thermostat
manufacturers finally commit the time, resources, and effort to
get the job done.