By Tyler Farmer on October 04, 2011

Smoke detectors, which contain toxins, need to be recycled properly and handled carefully.

Recycling Smoke Detectors Not So EasyPop quiz: What can be found in every home, has the sole duty of protecting a structure’s occupants and is radioactive all the while?

It may sound like a cruel joke, but this is actually the case with the one of our home’s most standard features: the smoke detector. That’s right, the oft-forgotten-except-when-needing-new-batteries smoke alarm is, in fact, radioactive.

eHow.com informs us, “According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 80 percent of all household smoke detectors in the United States contain a radioactive element, americium-241, with a half life of 432 years.” Feel free to impress your friends with this factoid at your next dinner party. Needless to say, this tidbit of info might make the proper disposal (read: recycling) of an old smoke alarm somewhat tricky.

This, of course, brings a whole host of reactions, “WHAT?!” being the most common, no doubt. But don’t fret; the amount of radioactive material contained within a given device is miniscule.

The same website offers encouraging info in regard to someone’s chances of being negatively affected by their life-saving disc: “Despite the radioactive properties within smoke detectors, americium-241 only releases alpha radiation. Alpha radiation can be blocked by millimeters of plastic casing, providing ample shielding for humans.”

When dealing with smoke detectors, keep in mind that the manufacturer has the facilities to handle and construct the devices. Ergo, they should be the ones responsible for correctly recycling them, right?

So, where exactly does one send an obsolete or unwanted smoke detector?

This webpage claims, “The vast majority of smoke detectors are made by First Alert Corporation.” In any case, consult the packaging material upon purchasing smoke detectors for disposal information. This is where companies are earning major points in the “green” department by offering proactive, eco-friendly information in regard to their products.

Perhaps you can find an exemplary smoke detector producer taking the initiative on sustainable product recovery. It seems that there is a lack of general knowledge on proper smoke detector disposal out there, so a little homework might be required to find the greenest option.

If the manufacturer takeback requirements are overly complicated, a local household hazardous waste provider may also be able to help out in an environmentally sensitive manner. You might want to call and learn the HHW provider’s policy beforehand just in case they can’t accept the tricky smoke detector.

If you know of any companies that fit the bill for offering sustainable, industry-leading recycling services for smoke detectors, feel free to talk them up in the comments section!

About the author

Tyler was born and raised in Albuquerque, NM. In the Southwest he played many sports, and attended school with an eager passion to learn. By the end of high school, Tyler was an All-American swimmer and water polo player, and a member of the National Honors Society.

Tyler left the Land of Enchantment to attend the University of Washington. In Seattle, he continued his interest in swimming and water polo, which led him to become a member, and later the president and captain, of the Water Polo Club. Tyler graduated with bachelor’s degrees in English and community, environment and planning, and a minor in architecture.

After graduating, Tyler briefly lived in Baton Rouge, LA, and then Fresno, CA, gaining experience working as a green blogger and recycling specialist for Electronic Recyclers International. Tyler is currently pursuing a legal career while freelance writing in Seattle.


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