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. 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 sch[...]
Learn more about Tyler Farmer

Related Articles


There are no comments for this post yet

Articles by Tyler Farmer

Twist: Your Eco-Ally in the Kitchen

By Tyler Farmer on May 4, 2012

Plant-based sponges offer clean dishes without harmful chemicals, biodegrade easily and can be tossed into compost piles after use.

DC Condos Do Repurposing Right

By Tyler Farmer on March 30, 2012

The Solidago, a three-unit LEED Platinum building, mixes recycled materials and historic charm with energy efficiency in a winning formula.

Redux Studios & Gallery: Promoting Waste Reduction by Upcycling

By Tyler Farmer on March 15, 2012

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County's studio encourages resident artists to recycle salvaged materials in their vibrant works of art.

Recycling Articles

How to Recycle Corks

By Sophia Bennett on April 23, 2014

Recycling and reuse opportunities abound for all of those leftover corks.

How to Recycle Mattresses

By Sophia Bennett on April 17, 2014

Nearly all of any given mattress can be recycled. Learn about the process, and what you can do to ensure your old mattress is properly recycled.

How to Recycle Motor Oil

By Sophia Bennett on April 15, 2014

In the U.S., an estimated 61% of used motor oil is dumped — not recycled — yet drop-off points are located all across the country.

Current News

Recycling Profile: Long Beach, CA

By 1-800-RECYCLING on April 18, 2014

Long Beach's weekly curbside recycling program accepts items like polystyrene, plastic bags and paint cans.

461 Colleges and Universities Nationwide Recover 89.1 Million Pounds of Organic and Recyclable Materials During RecycleMania

By 1-800-RECYCLING on April 14, 2014

During this 14th annual tournament, updated weekly rankings allowed schools to track their performance in eight categories measuring their recycling rate.

Recycling Profile: Nashua, NH

By 1-800-RECYCLING on April 11, 2014

Nashua's single-stream curbside recycling program could be a model for other programs around New Hampshire.