Most North American vehicles on the road today contain mercury switches located in anti-lock breaks and convenience lighting. Japanese and Swedish manufacturers stopped using mercury nearly a decade ago and mercury switches in North American vehicles were discontinued this year.
Each switch contains about 0.8 grams of mercury, which is present in 16.5 million cars in Canada. In an effort to address the release of the associated 13.2 tonnes of mercury from smelting old cars, Toronto-based Pollution Probe launched “Switch Out” in 2000. The program sets out operating guidelines and instructs automotive recyclers how to remove the switches. Switch Out also coordinates and finances transportation of the switches to a recycling facility. Since inception the program has seen increased numbers of recyclers participating and switches collected. Today there are over 100 Switch Out auto recycling participants operating in Alberta and Ontario. Still, the program collects less than 5 per cent of the switches passing through vehicle recycling facilities each year.
Last November, in a one-month pilot, Switch Out offered automotive recyclers a financial incentive of one dollar per switch. While volumes increased during the pilot, recyclers suggest mandating switch collection is the most effective way to achieve maximum collection results.
“We’re committed to working with government and industry to get these switches out,” says Trevor Pettit, Executive Director of the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association, “but voluntary efforts only last so long. The province has a regulatory role and industry (steel smelters and/or car manufacturers) must pay for the service.”
Piecemeal government and industry funding is not the answer. Accessing appropriate and ongoing funding from the automobile manufacturers, as well as regulating standards on mercury emissions for the steel sector, are needed if these programs are to be effective.
For more information: www.switchout.ca