Mercury can be a potent neurotoxin which can affect human and animal health. When mercury containing products go to landfill, they can contaminate the groundwater and release toxic compounds. Instead, we should recover mercury for use in new products.
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Mercury is classified as hazardous waste and is highly toxic to humans and animals. Due to its toxicity mercury should never enter the general waste stream where it can end up in landfill and may contaminate groundwater or convert to methyl mercury, a toxic and volatile gas. The largest source of mercury pollution entering our landfills is from mercury containing fluorescent tubes and HID lamps. But a number of other also products contain mercury including medical devices, electronic goods, thermometers and batteries. These products should be recycled to recover the mercury, which can then be reused in new products.
There are specialised recyclers of mercury containing waste operating in Australia. These recyclers will accept a wide range of mercury containing products such as light bulbs and thermometers. They may also offer more specialised recycling services for liquid mercury, compounds and amalgams. Some mercury recyclers also offer remediation for contaminated sites.
Other recyclers will accept products that contain mercury if they are appropriate to their specified recycling service. For example, e-waste recyclers will accept electronic goods that contain mercury.
What Happens When It’s Recycled?
Light bulbs: light bulbs are crushed and the various materials are separated under a continuous vacuum filtration process. The glass, aluminium and mercury-bearing phosphor powder is captured safely and after further purification is reused in thermometers, barometers, and electronic devices.
E-waste: Mercury is commonly found within many e-waste items. Electronic waste collected undergoes a manual dismantling process. The individual materials including mercury are recovered and then processed so that they can be used as raw materials to produce new products.
Site Remediation: Mercury contaminated soil and rubble from industrial sites is generally transported to processing plant when it can then be removed through a number of processes, physical separation, heat treatment or chemical extraction. The method used will be determined by the material from which the mercury must be recovered from.