Hazardous Waste Guide: Mercury Recycling & Disposal

Did you know that mercury waste can permanently damage the nervous system? According to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, it is estimated that 630,000 children are born in the United States with a toxic level of mercury in their system. Improper disposal of fluorescent light bulbs is the leading cause of mercury poisoning. Even though these bulbs only contain roughly 5 mg in each four-foot lamp sold today, they accumulate in the environment and inevitably end up accumulating in humans and animals.

So, how do you properly dispose of elemental mercury and manufactured articles that contain mercury and mercury salts? We explain mercury recycling and disposal below.

Forms of Mercury

To fully understand how to dispose of mercury, you must first identify the type of mercury you have, either elemental, mercury compounds, or contained in a manufactured article. 

Elemental Mercury

Sometimes referred to as quicksilver, elemental mercury is the pure form of the chemical element and is a silvery liquid at room temperature. It was once used in dentists’ offices as a constituent of dental amalgams or the silvery liquid in thermometers. 

Mercury Compounds

Coming in two different forms, inorganic and organic, mercury compounds are simply a chemical compound that consists of a mercury atom combined with some other element or elements to form a new chemical. Examples include: 

  • Mercury (II) Chloride –  a laboratory reagent 
  • Methylmercury – an inorganic compound formed by microbes in aquatic systems
  • Mercury (II) Iodide – a component of the rare mineral coccinite and used for x-ray and gamma-ray detection

Mercury Contained in Manufactured Articles (MCMA)

Often shortened to MCMA, mercury contained in manufactured products is found in many everyday materials. Examples may include:

  • Electrical Switches
  • Thermometers & Thermostats
  • Fluorescent and High-Intensity Discharge Lamps 

Mercury Waste Disposal and Recycling

In most cases, mercury ends up at a retort facility to recycle the element. This is done by boiling the mercury to the point where it easily is separated from the other materials it’s bonded to. From there, the mercury is available for use in new articles and for research and development. 

Depending on the form of mercury, it is managed as either hazardous waste (elemental or compounds) or universal waste (MCMA) and is governed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Each of these materials requires disposal by a licensed hazardous waste disposal company. 

Have mercury to dispose of? Contact us today to learn more about options and how to dispose of mercury waste and other hazardous materials properly.