Waste Recycling

Types of Amalgam | Steps for Recycling Amalgam | Best Management Practices for Amalgam Waste
Questions to Ask Your Recycler | Amalgam Waste Recyclers

Revised April 6, 2015

Mercury in the environment is bioaccumulative, which means it can build up in fish and cause health problems in humans and other animals that eat fish. Many state health professionals recommend limiting fish consumption, especially for children and pregnant women. 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 a guide for the handling and recycling of amalgam waste.

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal, however, about half of the mercury released to the environment comes from human activity. Of that amount, 53% is emitted from the combustion of fuels for energy production and 34% is from the combustion of waste. Some mercury released into the air eventually collects in the waterways where it enters the food chain.

Although mercury in the form of dental amalgam is very stable, amalgam should never be disposed of in the garbage or the infectious waste “red bag” and it should never be rinsed down the drain. The reason is that some communities incinerate municipal garbage, medical waste and sludge from waste water 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.

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): Excess mix leftover at the end of a dental procedure. Many recyclers will pay for this clean scrap.
  • Contact amalgam: 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: These contain amalgam sludge and water. Some recyclers will accept whole filters. Others will require special handling of this material.
  • Amalgam sludge: The mixture of liquid and solid material cleaned from vacuum pump filters or other amalgam capture devices.
  • Empty amalgam capsules: The containers leftover from pre-capsulated dental amalgam.

Steps for recycling amalgam

  • Use universal precautions such as gloves, masks and protective eyewear when handling amalgam waste.
  • Contact an amalgam waste recycler about any special requirements for collecting, storing and transporting amalgam waste.
  • Store amalgam waste in a covered plastic container labeled“Amalgam 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.

Best management practices for amalgam waste

  • 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 solutions down the drain, recycle them.
  • Never throw lead X-ray foils in the garbage, recycle them.
  • Never pour large quantities of disinfectant down the drain.

Questions to ask your amalgam waste recycler

Below is a list of some amalgam waste recyclers that handle amalgam waste. Appearance on this list does not constitute an endorsement. Select a recycling facility that serves your amalgam recycling needs. Notice that not all the 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 waste be packaged?
  • What waste can be packaged together?
  • Do you require amalgam waste to be disinfected?
  • How should the waste be shipped to your facility?
  • How much does it cost?
  • Can we deliver this waste to your facility ourselves?
  • 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?

Amalgam waste recyclers