Sunday, 15 January 2012

Recycling Smoke Alarms

We all know that we should have smoke alarms fitted in our homes. Those alarms can be damaged and will need replacing every ten years or so anyway. So what do you do with the old ones? Chuck them in the bin? Well, the fact that they are the subject of a best practice guide on the National Household Hazardous Waste Forum suggests that this is probably not the right solution. And indeed, looking at the back of mine, I can see why:

The back of my smoke alarm showing that it is a ionization alarm that contains a small amount of radioactive Americium 241

Ionization smoke alarms contain a small amount of radioactive material, Americium 241. Looking back at the best practice guide above, there are apparently three ways to deal with it:

  1. By a person authorised under section 13 of the Radioactive Substances Act 1993,
  2. By returning it to the manufacturer,
  3. By chucking it in the bin as long as you don't chuck in other radioactive waste and you only throw away one smoke alarm per bin bag.

Option 3 doesn't sound like recycling, while I don't know anybody who can help me with option 1. So that leaves option 2. As I've got the manufacturer's details on the back of the alarm, and their address is confirmed on their web site, that smoke alarm is going to find itself put into a jiffy bag, back to where it came from.

Note that there is another type of smoke alarms: photoelectric ones. They do not contain any dangerous material so are probably safer to dispose of. However, they are geared to detect different types of fires so for maximum protection you should have a combination of both photoelectric and ionization alarms.

For more questions on recycling stuff, have a look at the Recycle This web site.

Update

As very sensibly pointed out by Earth Notes, there may be an even easier way to deal with them: under the WEEE Directive, you can probably just give the old one to the retailer when you buy a new one.

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