The use of mercury-containing switches in automobiles started causing headaches for scrap processors and consumers alike in the 1990s, which prompted ISRI’s board of directors to adopt a policy position in 2001 calling for a nationwide recovery and collection program for mercury switches in automobiles that are to be recycled.
Establishing such a program didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen eventually. In 2006, the U.S. EPA and eight stakeholder groups, including ISRI, agreed to establish the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program, with the stated goal of removing mercury-containing light switches from scrap vehicles before the vehicles are flattened, shredded, and melted to make new steel. Since then, car dismantlers and scrap processors have recovered more than 6.25 million switches in the program, keeping nearly 14,000 pounds of mercury out of the environment. Although the program has gone through funding changes over the years, it continues to provide collection buckets and cover the costs of shipping and recycling for dismantlers and processors while providing indemnification for any environmental liability from the handling of the switches after shipment.