Keeping Mercury and Other Toxics Out of Environment
NRCM news release
Today, DEP officials presented a report to the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee showing that Maine’s five advanced recycling “product stewardship” laws are a huge success and have prevented more than 45 million pounds of electronic waste and hundred of pounds of toxic mercury from ending up in landfills or incinerators since 2008.
Maine has been a leader in developing advanced recycling programs that make it easier and less expensive for people to recycle old computers, batteries, mercury-containing thermostats, compact fluorescent lamps, and other products. DEP’s 2014 report to the Legislature, Implementation of Product Stewardship in Maine, describes the success of the state’s five product stewardship laws that require manufacturers to help fund and manage collection and recycling programs for their products. NRCM provided detailed comments on the report, including recommendations for areas for further improvement.
“This report clearly shows that Maine’s product stewardship programs work. They reduce the volume and toxicity of materials that end up in our landfills and incinerators, save Maine taxpayers money, and reduce risks to our health and environment,” said Sarah Lakeman, NRCM Sustainable Maine Policy Advocate and Outreach Coordinator.
Maine’s product stewardship programs provide recycling of electronic waste, rechargeable batteries, mercury auto switches, mercury-added thermostats, and compact fluorescent bulbs. An additional program aimed at collecting left-over house paint was established last year by the Legislature and is expected to go into effect later this year.
Among the successful results presented today are the following: More than 45 million pounds of electronic waste was collected in Maine for recycling from 2008 to 2012. The total weight of rechargeable batteries recycled between 2008 and 2012 increased by 33 percent. In 2012 the program that removes mercury-containing light switches from automobiles before they are scrapped had its highest rate of recycling in recent years, removing more than 7,100 switches with 16 pounds of mercury. More than 270 pounds of toxic mercury was captured for recycling through the collection of mercury-containing thermostats between 2008 and 2012, and the collection of mercury-containing fluorescent lamps experienced a strong recycling rate of 29 percent.
“This report shows that Maine is on the right path in creating laws that require manufacturers to help pay for the recycling of products that could pollute our air and water,” said Lakeman.
The one area where NRCM believes that performance needs to be improved is the mercury thermostat program. “Although Maine has had one of the most successful programs in the country, because of the $5 rebate provided for used thermostats that contain mercury, Maine is still failing to collect the vast majority of thermostats coming out of service each year,” said Lakeman. “To help reduce mercury pollution further, we are asking the Legislature to amend Maine law so that the thermostat recycling companies are required to do a better job with education and outreach here in Maine, and also to require them to fund a study of the number of mercury thermostats still in our homes and businesses and how many are being retired annually.”
NRCM has produced a series of four case studies describing Maine’s product stewardship programs, including Maine’s successful “bottle bill.” These documents and more can be found on the NRCM product stewardship page. Further information about how to recycle electronics, fluorescent bulbs, and thermostats is available on the DEP website: http://www.maine.gov/dep/gis/datamaps/brwm_recycling/
The DEP product stewardship report, including NRCM’s comments, is available at http://www.maine.gov/tools/whatsnew/attach.php?id=612406&an=1.