K-State Research and Extension News
August 15, 2013
Share  Email the story

K-State, Partners Work to Keep Toxic Metals out of Landfills

K-State’s Pollution Prevention Institute Working with Product Stewardship Institute and USDA

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Jessica Reffner is on a mission. The Kansas State University senior is taking on the task of keeping toxic metals out of landfills in southeast Kansas.

Reffner, an intern working for K-State’s Pollution Prevention Institute, is working with national and local hardware stores and lumber companies to make consumers aware of safe ways to dispose of products that contain toxic metals.  

“Most consumers don’t realize that products like rechargeable batteries, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and mercury thermostats contain toxic metals and shouldn’t go to the landfill,” said Reffner, who is majoring in mass communications. “Instead, these types of products are being collected for recycling through national take-back programs.”

The project is a partnership between K-State’s Pollution Prevention Institute (PPI) and the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), to help promote consumer take-back programs. 

Through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, PSI and PPI are working to expand take-back collection sites and awareness of the programs, focusing in an area in southeast Kansas. The grant supports Reffner’s and the partnership’s efforts to organize and promote the take-back programs which include collection of electronics, rechargeable batteries, fluorescent lamps, automobile light switches, and mercury-containing thermostats.

“Mercury is a shiny, liquid metal that becomes a colorless, odorless gas when heated. Depending on its chemical form and route of exposure, mercury can be a very toxic to human health and the environment,” according to PPI director, Nancy Larson. 

Programs like The Thermostat Recycling Corporation and End of Life Vehicle Services provide an easy and convenient way for companies to properly dispose of these products. CFL bulbs, on the other hand, are more complicated to take care of. Current collection points are Home Depot, Lowes, and a few local Household Hazardous Waste sites. Collection programs are convenient in urban areas, but scarce in rural areas like southeast Kansas. The PPI is seeking to expand collection options in these rural areas.

Call2Recycle is another program being promoted by PPI. It allows companies to register as a collection point for rechargeable batteries and cellphones so as to keep them out of our solid waste stream. Call2Recycle locations are more commonly seen in larger, populated communities at Best Buy and Staple’s.  PPI has reached out to local electronics and hardware stores in these rural areas to encourage them to participate.

After assessing existing collection sites in the area, Reffner plans to add new collection sites, increasing awareness and participation. She will then meet with representatives at host locations promoting the programs and determining any additional needs. This face-to-face contact along with news releases, community newspaper articles, and potential radio or television segments will raise awareness to these communities, increasing participation, and minimizing hazardous releases to the environment.

More information about take-back programs and other pollution prevention programs at K-State’s Pollution Prevention Institute is available by contacting Larson at 800-578-8898 or nlarson@ksu.edu.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Mary Lou Peter
K-State Research & Extension News

Nancy Larson, PPI 800-578-8898 or nlarson@ksu.edu