Recycling Dental Amalgam Waste and Other Best Management Practices for Your Dental Office
Dental amalgam waste can be recycled to help prevent the release of mercury to the environment. Dental associations, dentists, waste managers, and regulators have worked together to develop this guide about amalgam waste recycling and handling. Following these simple suggestions will help protect the environment
Although mercury in the form of dental amalgam is very stable, amalgam should never be disposed of in the garbage of infectious waste "red bag" and it should never be rinsed down the drain. The reason for this caution is that some communities incinerate municipal garbage, medical waste, and sludge from wastewater treatment plants. If amalgam waste ends up in one of these incinerated waste streams, it can volatilize at high temperatures and mercury will be released into the environment.
The good news is that amalgam waste kept separate from other waste can be recycled to reduce mercury emissions. Mercury can be recovered from amalgam wastes through a distillation process and reused in new products. After extensive review, waste regulators in the Great Lakes States recommend recycling amalgam as a best management practice for dental offices.
Types of Amalgam Wastes:
- Non-contact amalgam (scrap) is excess mix leftover at the end of a dental procedure. Many recyclers will pay for this clean scrap.
- Contact amalgamis amalgam that has been in contact with the patient. Examples are extracted teeth with amalgam restorations or amalgam captured by chair-side traps, filters or screens.
- Chair-side traps capture amalgam waste during amalgam placement or removal procedures. (Traps from dental units dedicated strictly to hygiene may be placed in with regular garbage.)
- Vacuum pump filters or traps contain amalgam sludge and water. Some recyclers will accept whole filters. Others will require special handling of this material.
- Amalgam sludge is the mixture of liquid and solid material cleaned from vacuum pump filters or other amalgam capture devices.
- Empty amalgam capsules are the containers leftover from precapsulated dental amalgam.
Steps for Recycling Amalgam:
1. Use universal precautions such as gloves, masks, and protective eyewear when handling amalgam waste.
2. Contact an amalgam waste recycler about any special requirements for collecting, storing, and transporting amalgam waste.
If you need to find a recycler, check with your city, county, or local waste authority to see if they have an amalgam waste recycling program. Or use the Amalgam Waste Recyclers directory enclosed with this guide. See page 5 for a list of suggested questions to ask your amalgam waste recycler.
3. Store amalgam waste in a covered plastic container labeled AAmalgam for Recycling@ or as directed by your recycler.
- Consider keeping different types of amalgam wastes in separate containers - talk to your recycler about any advantages.
- Bulk elemental mercury, also referred to as liquid or raw mercury, is no longer recommended for use by the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA recommends the use of precapsulated amalgam alloy.
- Bulk elemental mercury should NEVER be poured in the garbage, red bag, or down the drain.
- Recycle all bulk elemental mercury.
- You should have a mercury spill clean up kit if you still use bulk elemental mercury.
Best Management Practices for Amalgam Waste and Other BMP's for the Dental Office:
- Never put amalgam waste in the regular garbage.
- Never put amalgam waste in with infectious waste (red bag).
- Never rinse chair-side traps or vacuum pump filters containing amalgam over drains or sinks.
- Never dispose of empty amalgam capsules with infectious waste (red bag) or municipal waste that's incinerated.
- Never flush amalgam waste down the drain.
- Never pour used photographic fixer solution down the drain, recycle them.
- Never throw lead x-ray foils in the garbage, recycle them.
- Never pour large quantities of disinfectants down the drain.
Questions to ask your Amalgam Waste Recycler:
Select a recycling facility that serves your amalgam recycling needs. Not all recycling companies accept all types of amalgam waste and services can vary widely. Contact a recycler before recovering amalgam and ask about any specific handling instructions.
We recommend asking amalgam waste recyclers the following questions:
- What kind of amalgam wastes do you accept? (Non-contact, contact, traps, filters or sludge, etc.)
- Do you provide packaging for storage or shipping?
- If packaging is not provided, how should the wastes be packaged?
- What waste can be packaged together?
- Is disinfecting of amalgam waste required?
- How should the waste be shipped to your facility?
- How much does it cost?
- Can we deliver this waste to your facility ourselves?
You may also want to ask these questions:
- Do you accept bulk elemental mercury?
- Do you accept x-ray fixer solutions?
- Do you accept lead x-ray foils?
- Do you accept mercury spill clean-up materials?
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