Case Study: Reducing Mercury in the Recycling Stream

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 impacting the environment.