written by: Lara Stewart•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 2/22/2011
Smoke detectors can contain components that are not healthy for the environment and are considered e-waste. Learn how to properly dispose of smoke detectors and where you should go to do so.
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Smoke Detectors are a Type of e-Waste
Ensuring proper disposal of a smoke detector is important in order to keep harmful chemicals out of the soil and groundwater. Smoke detectors contain several components that can cause environmental harm if not disposed of correctly. Most smoke detectors are what are known as ionization detectors. These types of smoke detectors contain a small amount of the synthetic ion Americium 241, which emits radiation. While installed in your home, metal shielding protects against radiation. However, if not disposed of properly, the metal housing can be crushed, which can make the Americium 241 a health hazard.
Additionally, most smoke detectors are run on batteries, which contain heavy metals. Batteries should always be removed and disposed of properly when they are depleted.
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How to Dispose of Your Smoke Detector Properly
It is recommended that, if at all possible, you return your smoke detector to the manufacturer for proper disposal. When returning a smoke detector to a manufacturer, it is recommended that you package it securely and ship it via a ground service such as UPS. The US Postal Service is not permitted to ship radioactive materials. The manufacturers are required by law to accept old smoke detectors that contain radioactive materials so that they can be disposed of safely. Below is a list of major smoke detector manufacturers and their contact information:
Dicon - 3334 Main Street, Skokie, IL 60076
First Alert/BRK Brands - 1-800-323-9005
Code One/Firex/Maple Chase - 22820 Thatcher Road Downers, Grove, IL 60515
Safety's Sake/Funtech - 388 N. Elliot Creek Road, Amherst, NY 14228
Life Saver/Frynetics, Inc. - 1055 Stevenson Court Suite 102, W. Roselle, IL 60172
American Sensors - 1-800-387-4219
If the maker of your smoke detector is not on this list, you can also take it to your local hazardous waste disposal site. Most counties have such a site, and also drop-off events throughout the year. If there is no public hazardous waste disposal service in your area, you can also contact private companies such as All Green Electronics Recycling. They are a privately owned, full-service electronics recycling company, and can help you safely dispose of all manner of e-waste.
During disposal of a smoke detector, remember to remove the battery and dispose of it separately. It is suggested that batteries be turned in to local hazardous waste collection sites.
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You can extend the life of your smoke detector by vacuuming it regularly and making sure that it is protected during activities such as repainting the walls. Make sure that you check your smoke detector at least twice a year to make sure that it is funcitoning properly.
It is also possible to buy smoke detectors that do not contain readioactive matter. These smoke detectors are known as photoelectric smoke detectors, and use a light and a sensor to detect smoke.