Case Study: Reducing Mercury in the Recycling Stream

The National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program is the result of a three-year collaborative effort involving the EPA, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the American Iron and Steel Institute, the Steel Manufacturers Association, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the Automotive Recyclers Association, Environmental Defense, the Ecology Center (Ann Arbor), and representatives of the Environmental Council of the States. The program has thus far removed more than 3 tons of mercury from the environment.

Until about 2003, automakers used mercury in various applications, including hood and trunk convenience light switches and anti-lock breaking systems (ABS) in domestic automobiles.

Despite the phase-out of mercury-containing switches in newer vehicles, older vehicles that still have mercury-containing parts are entering the recycling stream as these cars reach their end-of-life.

To address this problem, several states have passed laws or created voluntary programs requiring the recovery of mercury switches from end-of-life vehicles. EPA, steelmakers, automakers, recyclers, states and other stakeholders created the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program to recover mercury switches before the cars are recycled (re-melted) into new steel. Since 2006, 3.5 tons of mercury have been recovered and recycled through this program and have been prevented from release to the environment.