Atmospheric mercury loading showing the increase as a result of volcanic and human activity.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Mercury is a heavy metal that is used in some lamps and some electronic equipment.  It is considered to be extremely toxic to human health. 

Mercury vapor is present in small amounts in fluorescent lamps: the tube style, compact fluorescent lamp (CFL), and the cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) found in computer monitors and other display devices.

The European Commission passed the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) restricting the use of mercury along with nine other hazardous substances.  Although the Directive only applies to the European Union it has had an influence on the global electronics industry.  Electronics catalogues often state whether components are RoHS compliant.

Mercury was present in some batteries used as part of the electrochemical process or as a useful additive.

New Zealand is a signatory to the Minimata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.  The Convention came into force on 16 August 2017.


Further information

Novel and highly-selective method for retrieving mercury • Recycling International

Novel and highly-selective method for retrieving mercury • Recycling International10 October 2019
Mercury is a highly toxic and bio-accumulative pollutant, yet with important industrial applications. This article explores an innovative mercury recovery process that may make a difference for recyclers everywhere.