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Thursday, January 2, 2020

Can Smoke Detectors be recycled?

One of the chores that many families have at the beginning of the new year is changing the batteries on  their smoke and/or carbon monoxide detectors. This is one chore that can easily save your life. Occasionally, you’ll come across detectors that need to be replaced and this is where it gets a little more complicated. 

To start, there are four basic types of residential smoke detectors:

1. Ionization Smoke Alarms:  ionization smoke detectors are designed to detect fast, flaming fires.  They contain a small amount of a man-made, radioactive material, Americium-241, which emits minimal radiation, so it is considered safe for human exposure UNLESS the device has been tampered with.

2. Photoelectric Smoke Alarms:  Photoelectric smoke detectors function best for detecting smoky, smoldering fires.  Unlike ionization smoke alarms, photoelectric smoke detectors do not contain any radioactive material.

3. Dual-Sensor Smoke Alarms:  Dual-sensor smoke alarms combine ionization and photoelectric technology in one detector.  The combination of technologies helps the device detect both fast, flaming fires and smoky, smoldering fires, alleviating the need to install two separate detectors.

4. Combination Smoke/CO Alarms:  Combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarms can detect both smoke and carbon monoxide.  Depending on the type of smoke detector in this combination, they may or may not contain radioactive material.

Most homes have the ionization types and this is problematic when you go to dispose of them as they contain a small amount of radioactive material.


DISPOSAL

On the Brevard County Solid Waste Management Dept. website (https://www.brevardfl.gov/SolidWaste/HouseholdHazardousWaste), they quote the Nuclear Regulatory Commission where they exempt these materials (smoke detectors) from regulatory requirements. NRC recommends disposal in your regular household trash or MAIL BACK to the manufacturer. 

Waste Management makes reference on their website (https://www.thinkgreenfromhome.com/ThinkGreenFromHome.cfm) to LampTracker which does, in fact, take back, via mail, smoke detectors (https://www.wmlamptracker.com/v2/product_smokedetector.cfm) for a fee.  However, the smallest container for you to purchase is $79.00, whose capacity is for 4-5 6 x 6 inch filters, which isn’t really practical for a residential customer.


I was able to find a couple of other companies which you can send your detectors to, for a price - these are only a few of the companies offering this service:

1. CuriePackSM Radioactive (Am-241) Smoke Alarm Recycling Kit -1 gallon (~4 Alarms)  cost is $49.99
It’s important to note that unidentifiable or disassembled/stripped down smoke alarms are NOT allowed in the 1 gallon CuriePack and will be surcharged at $8 each.

2. Smoke Detector (Consumer) Recycling Kit - $59 (capacity of around 5 units); IMPORTANT: This program is only for smoke detectors containing Americium 241.(Detectors containing other radioactive materials are not accepted.)

   
MANUFACTURERS

The best way to dispose of an ionization type detector is to return it to the manufacturer for responsible recycling.  However - and there’s always a however isn’t there? - not all manufacturers will take their products back.

In an ideal world, all manufacturers would be responsible for taking back their products at the end of life cycle. This would take the onus off of consumers for properly disposing of the products and back on the manufacturers where it rightly belongs. But, as of today, the ideal world is just a figment of imagination.

Something to think about when you’re purchasing your next detector is to purchase one from a manufacturer who specifically provides an end of life recycling option.

Doing research for this article, I found references to several different websites that contain information for a variety of manufacturers, but unfortunately very little of it was up to date. Information which I verified with individual manufacturers is listed later in this article, but I need to emphasize that prior to sending your detectors back to the manufacturer you should always contact them to be sure the information provided is up to date as it changes quite frequently. 

The main manufacturers of smoke detectors and CO alarms are:  First Alert and Kidde, representing ¾ of the market. Other manufacturers include:  Nest, Swann, Gentex, Firex, Code One, Honeywell, Universal Security Instruments and Panasonic.

Typically, there is a label on the back of your smoke detector which contains the name and address of the manufacturer.  They should be contacted for appropriate disposal information as, unfortunately, each manufacturer is different. 


Following is a sample of the differences between various manufacturers and instructions:

1. Kidde manufactures CodeOne & FirexOn Kidde’s website they recommend contacting your local fire department to verify compliance with any jurisdictional ordinances or requirements.  After contacting them, they told me that they do, in fact, have an individual consumer disposal program.  Like most things, it’s not simple and requires the consumer to fill out a form to receive authorization to send in their alarm.  The consumer pays all costs associated with the return of the alarm.  I have a copy of the form which they forwarded to me.


2. Gentex
Although they recommend recycling them at local facilities (which we don’t have), they did check with their applications engineer who said that they could be sent back to his attention, but we need to be certain to mark the box ‘RECYCLE”.

Gentex Corporation
11768 James Street
Holland, MI 49424
Attention:  Jim Bohn

3. First Alert
Will accept up to 4 of First Alert devices at a time.  You need to call ahead for mailing instructions.  The number is 800-323-9005 ext. 2; customer service department. The company’s address is 3920 Enterprise Court, Aurora, Il 60504.  Again, you pay costs.


4. Nest
Google (Nest’s manufacturer)  is the only manufacturer  I could find where recycling  was totally free for residents. Mail your device to be recycled (US only)

Google offers a free mail back program through its partner, Reverse Logistics Group Americas (RLGA), for google’s customers. RLGA only accepts Nest Smoke Detectors for recycling. To use the mail back program, follow the steps below:

After reading this information, I’m sure you can see how complicated this is.  It shouldn’t be that way - obviously.  However, it is, and until it’s changed we have to go through the process.

The best way to make the necessary changes is to contact the manufacturers of your smoke detectors and if they don’t accept them back, write to them and tell them they should be responsible for the return of their products at the conclusion of their life cycle.  That would be a start.

(Article contributed by Chris Kane, volunteer at Recycle Brevard)