The Zero Mercury Campaign was launched in 2005 by the European Environmental Bureau and the Mercury Policy Project with funds from the Sigrid Rausing Trust. The campaign aims to end the supply, demand and emissions of mercury from all human-made sources, with the goal of reducing mercury to a minimum in the global environment. To run the campaign, they founded the Zero Mercury Working Group, an international coalition of more than 110 public interest, environmental and health NGOs from over 55 countries.
The Trust supported the Zero Mercury until 2016. “Our greatest success while being supported by the Trust was the adoption of the 2008 EU Mercury regulation on banning exports of metallic mercury and certain mercury compounds, and the safe storage of metallic mercury,” says Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, project manager at the campaign.
The European Union had been the main exporter of mercury to countries where regulations around its use were lax or non-existent. The regulation made sure that metallic mercury was not available on the world market. The United States followed two years later, adopting a mercury export ban. These two bans had global repercussions, says Lymberidi-Settimo, sending a strong signal on the dangers of mercury, and the firm decision that trade, use, emissions and exposure needed to be reduced and, where possible, eliminated.
Other major policy wins included the adoption of the landmark Minamata Convention in 2013 aimed at protecting human health and the environment from mercury pollution. It was named after the Japanese city of Minimata, which experienced serious mercury poisoning after industrial wastewater from a chemical factory was discharged into Minamata Bay. Methylmercury bioaccumulated in fish and shellfish in the bay and local people who consumed it became very sick, and many died or were left severely disabled. As of 2020, the Convention bans the manufacture, import and export of a myriad of mercury-added products. And it addresses emissions from artisanal and small-scale gold mining – the largest source of mercury pollution in the world.