Recycle your old smoke detectors

The average smoke detector’s lifespan is 10 years, but when that time is up, what’s the best way to dispose of it? While it is legal to dispose of smoke detectors in a landfill—they are not classified hazardous waste—a better option is to recycle them.

What detector type do you have?

There are four types of smoke detectors available for consumer purchase:

  • Ionization – The most common type of smoke detector, ionization smoke detectors are quicker at sensing flaming, fast moving fires. This type of detector uses a small amount of radioactive material to ionize air in an internal sensing chamber. When smoke particles enter the chamber, the conductivity of the chamber air will decrease. When this reduction in conductivity is reduced to a predetermined level, the alarm is set off.
  • Photoelectric – Photoelectric smoke detectors are quicker than ionizing detectors at sensing smoldering fires. A photoelectric detector consists of a light emitting diode and a light sensitive sensor located in a sensing chamber. The presence of suspended smoke particles in the chamber scatters the light beam. This scattered light is detected by the light sensitive sensor which sets off the alarm.
  • Dual-sensor – Dual-sensor smoke detectors combine ionization and photoelectric technology in one detector.
  • Combination smoke/CO – These types of detectors 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.

You can look at the back of your smoke detector to determine which type you have.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that consumers purchase both photoelectric and ionization smoke detectors or a dual-sensor alarm.

How often should I replace my detector?

The NFPA recommends consumers replace smoke detectors when they are 10 years old or sooner if they do not respond properly when tested. The NFPA also recommends you replace smoke alarms when you move into a new home if you do not know their age. Check the expiration date on your smoke detector the next time you replace the batteries.

Why not just throw it in the trash?

Most in-home smoke detectors are the ionizing type. When thrown in the trash, the radioactive component can be damaged during collection and processing leading to radioactive exposure. Both ionizing and photoelectric detectors have printed circuit boards which contain heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury.

Recycling options

Both Midwest Recycling Center (drop off) and Curie Environmental Services (mail back) accept all brands of smoke detectors for recycling. Some brands offer mail-back recycling services for their brands only. If there’s no return information on your detector, contact the manufacturer directly. Fees are usually charged for shipping and handling. You can find manufacturer contact information on the back of the detector.

Recycle old batteries at either the Midwest Recycling Center or your local HHW program.

How are they recycled?

Plastic and metal components are separated and recycled. The radioactive component is shipped for final disposal at a licensed radioactive waste facility.

Better to repair than replace

Ever had a household item break only to be told “it would be cheaper to replace it than fix it”? It’s become a mantra of our twenty-first century consumer culture. Unfortunately, it’s an MO that runs completely counter to waste reduction. The amount of energy and resources consumed and pollution created to replace an item far outweighs that of repairing it. So why has it become nearly impossible to get something fixed, and what are some ways to change that?

You have the right to repair

The “right to repair” is the right to fix a device yourself or have someone other than the manufacturer do the work for you. The concept got started within the automotive industry back in 2012 when Massachusetts passed the country’s first Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act. The act required automobile manufacturers to provide the necessary documents and information to allow anyone to repair their vehicles.

Inspired by this, The Repair Association was founded in 2013 to transfer this concept to electronics. Many electronics manufacturers had instituted systems whereby the only means to repair a device or obtain repair parts would be through one of their authorized vendors or original equipment manufacturers (OEM).

The practice of requiring consumers to go to the manufacturer for repairs has generally been criticized as anti-competitive.

Repair has its day and café

International Repair Day is organized by the Open Repair Alliance, an international group including Fixit Clinic (United States), The Repair Cafe Foundation (Netherlands), The Restart Project (UK), iFixit, and Anstiftung Foundation (Germany). This day highlights the value of repair and promotes global community efforts to fix the stuff we own.

A repair café is a meeting organized by and for local residents where people repair household items. The objectives are to reduce waste, maintain repair skills and to strengthen community. Repair cafés are held at a fixed location where tools, materials and volunteers are available to help. The Repair Café Foundation supports local groups around the world in setting up their own repair cafés.

Green Works in Kansas City hosted a Repair Cafe & Open House this past October in Midtown Kansas City, Mo. This event focused on bicycle, clothing, jewelry, furniture, lamp and tool repair.

Who fixes what in Kansas City?

There are local repair options for many types of items. A few high-demand categories include electronics, clothing, shoes and furniture. When searching online for a local repair service, be as specific as possible: furniture repair Kansas City, shoe repair Overland Park, etc.

Repair it yourself

In recent years, the do-it-yourself (DIY) movement has gone viral. Repairing something yourself can save money and increase skills and knowledge which you can then pass on to others. It starts by simply going online and typing: do it yourself (item name here) repair.

For more information on other ways to reduce waste, visit Beyond Recycling: Reduce and Reuse.

A prescription for proper disposal

Nearly 70 percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug regularly, and more than half take two, according to the Mayo Clinic. That translates to a large amount of leftover pills and prescription bottles that eventually have to go somewhere. In the Kansas City area, there are many safe disposal options.

Lock ‘em up

When you’re putting household chemicals like wasp spray and weed killer in a locked cabinet out of the reach of children and pets, don’t forget to do the same with your prescription drugs. Medications are every bit as dangerous, and child safety caps can fail. Also, since many drugs like opioids are addictive, you don’t want them getting in the wrong hands.

The best way to dispose

The best way to dispose of most types of old, unused, unwanted, or expired medicines (both prescription and over the counter) is to drop them off at a drug takeback location or event as soon as possible. Many pharmacies and police stations offer a free public drop box, no questions asked. To find the nearest location, visit RecycleSpot.org and use “Prescriptions” as your search term.  

The next best way to dispose

If for some reason there are no drug takeback options available where you live, medications can be disposed in the trash. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Mix medicines (liquid or pills; do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unappealing substance such as dirt, cat litter, or used coffee grounds.
  2. Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag.
  3. Throw the container in the trash.

Do not flush!

Never flush medicines down the toilet or put them down any drain in your house. Water treatment facilities cannot fully remove all medications from wastewater. Your medications can have a detrimental effect on the people, plants and animals that live downstream.

Be sharp about sharps

Medical sharps, such as needles, syringes, lancets and injection pens, are not recyclable. To protect sanitation workers or anyone who handles your trash, they should be put into a tightly closed, puncture-resistant container such as a detergent bottle. Or, you can search online for mail-back programs.

Donate empty prescription bottles

Most people think that prescription bottles should be recyclable since they’re plastic containers and often have the #5 resin code imprinted on the bottom. Unfortunately, they’re not recyclable in the Kansas City area because they are classified as “smalls” by the recycling industry. Smalls are any items 2” X 2” — about the size of a credit card — or smaller that do not make it through the automated recycling processes at material recovery facilities and thus end up in the trash. 

The following organizations accept prescription bottles for donation. Before donating them, make sure bottles are clean, and that all personal information has been removed. Always call before donating.

Shipping materials are prime for recycling

We know you’re primed for Amazon Prime Day. But once you’ve received the items you’ve ordered, what are you going to do with all the shipping materials? Reuse and recycle them, of course!

Keep some around

Used boxes and shipping materials can come in handy when you have a gift to wrap or something to store or ship. Set aside a tote, cabinet or shelf to store used shipping materials. It will save you time and money.

Boxed in? Boxes out!

All cardboard shipping boxes are 100-percent recyclable. They can be recycled in your curbside recycling bin or at your local drop-off recycling center. Be sure to break them down before recycling to save space.

Films a-plenty

Most plastic film shipping materials can be recycled along with your plastic shopping bags at grocery stores and big box stores. These include air pillows, bubble wrap, plastic envelopes (including bubble-wrap lined and Tyvek™), and the film and foam wrap from new household items such as appliances and furniture. Always remove address labels from envelopes before recycling. And since you also need to pop bubble wrap and air pillows before recycling, give them to the kids for a few moments of loud fun.

What about Styrofoam™?

If you purchase furniture or appliances, you’re bound to get Styrofoam™ (a.k.a. EPS: expanded polystyrene) shipping materials at some point. The only place in the Kansas City region that recycles EPS molds, blocks, and coolers is ACH Foam Technologies, 1400 N. 3rd St., Kansas City, KS, (913) 321-4114. EPS must be clean: no dirt, debris, tape, tape residue, labels, glue, marker, or discoloration. Please note: no other type of polystyrene is recyclable in the metro area, including packing peanuts and food and beverage containers (cups, takeout containers, egg cartons, meat trays, etc.).

UFO (unidentified foam objects)

Last year, Amazon started shipping items in these new brown paper envelopes. The envelopes state that they are recyclable. However, customers were skeptical when they found that the cushioning was a white, crumbly, foam-like substance. Amazon confirmed that during the recycling process, this cushioning material (a type of expanded adhesive) is separated from the recyclable paper fibers. So these envelopes can be recycled in your curbside recycling bin or with cardboard at your local drop-off recycling center.

Yes, there’s a “no list”

Two types of shipping materials that cannot be recycled are paper envelopes lined with bubble wrap and PE-LD (low-density polyethylene). Often mistaken for polystyrene, PE-LD is different in the following ways: it’s squeezable, it bends but does not break, and it’s labeled with a #4 plastic resin code (polystyrene is #6). Reuse options include shipping, storage and crafting.

To find out where to recycle your shipping materials, visit RecycleSpot.org.

BEWARE! It lurks in your home.

And no, we’re not talking about spiders, rats or ghosts. We’re talking about household hazardous waste (HHW). HHW can be any unwanted item in your home with the words “danger,” “warning” or “caution” on the label.

About 50 percent of HHW disposed of in the Kansas City metro area is latex paint. So, what makes up the other 50 percent? Unfortunately, materials that are significantly more hazardous to you, your family, and your pets. These items can be flammable, toxic, corrosive or reactive if not properly used and managed. They should never be disposed in the trash or down the drain as they can end up in the local water supply where they endanger both people and wildlife.

Following are the areas in your home where HHW lies in wait.

Garage/basement

The bigger the space the more room for HHW, and that’s why garages and basements are a favorite place to lurk. In addition to latex paint, these areas are home to latex’s more dangerous siblings: oil paint, spray paint, sealants and stains. Two other big offenders are automotive fluids such as motor oil, antifreeze and windshield cleaner, and lawn and garden products such as fertilizers, weed killers, and pesticides. Other equally dangerous materials include barbeque products like lighter fluid and charcoal briquettes, and car-care products like cleaning sprays and foams.

Under the kitchen sink

If you look beyond the dishwasher soap and cleaning bucket, you’ll see an array of bottles staring back at you, almost all of them containing hazardous chemicals. These include oven cleaners, countertop cleaners, glass cleaners and drain openers.

In the bathroom

Your medicine cabinet is home to some of the most dangerous products of all. Apart from medicines (both prescription and over the counter), you may have nail polish and remover, and hair coloring and straightening products. Let’s not forget what hides in the vanity either: tile cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners and disinfectant wipes.

Get it out!

Ever seen a horror movie in which a scary voice says, “Get out!”? Well, think of all that scary HHW in your home and “Get it out!” Kansas residents can take HHW to their county’s HHW facility for free. Missouri residents have several free and fee-based options for proper HHW disposal. Check RecycleSpot.org to find the nearest police station or pharmacy that will accept your old medicines and prescription drugs.

Safe alternatives

Even when used as directed, many household chemicals can endanger our health and safety. Fortunately, safe alternative products are readily available, easy to use and often cheaper than their more dangerous counterparts. To make your home safer, download the Safe Alternatives to Household Chemicals brochure.

For more information visit Hazardous Waste.