Recycling Know No’s ~ Mercury ~ Disposing of ‘Hazardous Hand-Me-Downs’

~ Submitted by Liz Antanavica – DPW Refuse & Recycling Administrator

Mercury is a naturally occurring metallic element that is present in low levels in the environment, in many common household items and unfortunately, now found in the fish we eat. Mercury is hazardous to human health when not handled properly. When our weekly trash is incinerated, mercury-containing items mistakenly tossed in the trash have the potential to release vapors into the air.

According to MassDEP “The environmental impacts of mercury can be local, or carried across whole regions or entire continents by the wind. In lakes, ponds, and the ocean, mercury can be transformed by natural processes into a more toxic form called methylmercury, which enters the food chain when small organisms absorb it.” Mercury is also highly persistent in the environment. This means, it persists for a long time and never degrades into a harmless substance.

(Photo credit: Center for Ecotechnoloy)

You may have some “hazardous hand-me-downs” in the basement or garage that you didn’t even know contained mercury. You may also have modern items you purchased yourself – like fluorescent bulbs – that contain mercury. It’s dense the silver bead in your thermometer or old thermostat.

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Common items that contain Mercury include:

  • Thermometers
  • Fluorescent bulbs
  • Older Thermostats
  • Lighting Ballasts
  • Batteries made before 1990
  • Button batteries found in watches, calculators, hearing aids, and electronics;
  • Pilot lights in gas appliances; and
  • Switches in certain automatic shut-off irons, car trunks, fire alarms, and septic tanks.

These items, when intact, are not dangerous. However, when a mercury-containing item is broken, thrown in the trash, or poured down the drain, mercury cycles through the environment, polluting air and water, and accumulating in fish. Mercury poisoning is especially dangerous for pregnant woman and children.

Do you have liquid (elemental) mercury at home? Do not transport it or throw it in the trash. Contact Complete Recycling Solutions at (866)277-9797 x705 for free pickup. Elemental mercury must be kept in a glass or plastic container as it will corrode metal. 

The Town of Bedford participates in Covanta Energy’s sponsored Mercury Recovery Program. Bedford residents (including residents in developments with private trash service) can bring mercury-containing bulbs, devices and batteries to the Universal Waste Shed at the Compost & Recycling Center on Carlisle Rd. The site is open every Wednesday and every other Saturday from 8-1. Current schedule and acceptable items list can be found here:

Town of Bedford Universal Waste Shed, 108 Carlisle Rd

Use these tips from MassDEP to keep mercury from contaminating our environment:

  • Avoid putting mercury-containing products in the trash or down the drain. In addition to the Universal Waste Shed, Bedford residents can register for Household Hazardous Waste drop-off at the Minuteman Hazardous Waste Facility, 60 Hartwell Ave, Lexington by visiting
  • Never touch spilled mercury. Keep people and pets away and open windows to ventilate the area. Don’t sweep or vacuum spilled mercury up! Safety tips for handling a mercury spill can be found here
  • Check product labels. Buy mercury-free alternatives whenever they are available.
  • Be aware of fish consumption advisories. Eating fish contaminated with mercury can harm you and your family.

Questions about the Town of Bedford Mercury Program can be directed to Liz Antanavica, Refuse & Recycling Administrator at (781)275-7605 x4261.

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