FORT WASHINGTON, Pa. — Oct. 24 is the 20th anniversary of Thermostat Recycling Corp.’s founding.

This milestone event offers the perfect opportunity to cast a long glance at our past and a peek into the future.

I have a friend who claims ownership of “hindsight is 20-20” (He didn’t coin the phrase), but hindsight is a barometer for reviewing the past and arriving at some judgment of just how well TRC has performed.

The most important contribution TRC has made since its founding is undeniable: We have removed 11 tons of mercury from the environmental stream. And as a reminder for those who passed on science classes, not only is mercury an element you can’t destroy, it’s a well-documented health hazard. We say this frequently, and we’ll say it frequently in the future, too. At the risk of a bit of braggadocio, that’s more than 2.4 million thermostats that we collected, recycled, and disposed of safely.

The sheer magnitude of the effort, spearheaded by our three founding members — Honeywell, White-Rogers, and General Electric, who did it through the National Electrical Manufacturers Association — when measured in retrospect, deserves  a round of praise. Since those early days, that trio has blossomed to 30 companies. TRC has spread to all 48 contiguous states, and more than 3,600 businesses or community locations have green collection containers as part of our free service. That’s called successfully spreading the effort. In 2006, we added household hazardous waste collection sites.

In the flush of this modest self-congratulation, I’m not dismissing our continued challenges. Our collection numbers are declining, having reached a peak in 2014. It’s the inevitable results of our successful efforts. And, unfortunately, the cost per thermostat recovery and recycling continues to increase.

There is also the serious issue of when we stop our effort (presuming mandates have a contingency plan for this). We simply don’t know how many mercury-containing thermostats are still out there. When does the economic cost become too prohibitive for those final 100 thermostats?

I anticipate that we will respond to these challenges successfully as we have in the past.

And what created that success are those with whom we partnered, and today it seems appropriate to thank them publicly. I’d hate to break the tradition of saying thanks on an anniversary, so here’s a toast of bubbly seltzer to:

  • Our manufacturer members whose financial contributions both created and maintained TRC’s existence. Someone must pay the bills; they have;
  • The HVAC industry (derived from wholesalers and contractors) who have housed our collection sites have been the backbone of the system and have been responsible for about 90 percent of our collection numbers. If wholesalers didn’t grant us a spot for our collection containers, where would we be? Under this umbrella, we must thank the HVAC contractors who do the actual work of collecting and depositing the thermostats;
  • The trade press has been a good partner in this endeavor. They allowed us to penetrate an audience that is far broader than we would have accomplished on our own; and
  • Mark Tibbetts, my immediate predecessor, who first came aboard when the mercury-containing world seemed flat. He helped make people realize it was round.


Now, that peek into the future that I promised. Will it take another 20 years before we find that last mercury-containing thermostat? If we do, it’ll serve as an artifact for the thermostat museum, if one exists (actually pretty sure the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., has a Honeywell T87F on display). Hopefully, there’ll be a small note card next to the thermostat describing it, the manufacturer, where someone found it, and by whom.

I’d like to suggest three additional words on the note card: “Job well done.”

I think that’s a suitable summary of how TRC and its partners performed.

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Publication date: 10/25/18