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, fees apply) 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.

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.

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.

Contamination can’t be recycled

Recyclable materials falling loose into a curbside binContamination is the term used by the recycling industry to describe anything in a recycling bin that shouldn’t be there. Contamination decreases the value of recyclables, increases processing costs, can be dangerous for workers and can cause your recyclables to be sent to the landfill. The average contamination rate among communities and businesses is currently about 25 percent. That means that roughly one in four items placed in a recycling bin is not actually recyclable.

So how can you fight contamination? Prepare recyclable items correctly, and don’t recycle unacceptable items.

Proper prep

Give a quick rinse to all cans and plastic containers and keep items loose in your recycling bin — not in bags, not in boxes. Plastic bags aren’t recyclable curbside. Plus, anything in a bag is assumed to be trash and goes straight to the landfill. Recyclables can get stuck inside boxes and may not get properly sorted and processed.

Never in the bin

The following items should never go in your curbside recycling bin:

plastic film bag

Plastic bags and film — Recycling processing facilities are not set up to process plastic film, whether it be shopping bags, product overwrap, air pillows or bubble wrap. It gets caught in the sorting machinery or disposed of on the sorting line. Instead, recycle plastic bags and film at your local grocery or big box store.

A great way to reduce single-use plastic bags is to use durable, reusable bags.

Photo of group of fast food containers: take out box, hamburger box, french fry container, Chinese take out container and fast food drink cup.Food & liquids — Food and liquids can ruin an entire load of recyclables and send them straight to the landfill.

Though made primarily of paper, coffee and soda cups, paper plates, frozen food containers, takeout boxes, and fast food containers cannot be recycled for two reasons. The first is because they’re all coated with a thin layer of plastic, not wax as is commonly believed. The second is they are heavily contaminated by food and beverages.

Pizza boxes can be iffy — you can recycle the clean part (usually the top), and compost or dispose of the greasy part (usually the bottom). The only parts of disposable cups that are recyclable are the plastic lids and cardboard coffee cup sleeves.

Paint can with brush resting on top

A great way to reduce single-use food containers is to go durable.

Hazardous waste — This includes medical waste such as sharps, and prescription drugs, personal hygiene items such as diapers and toilet paper, and household hazardous waste (HHW). HHW is any item with Danger, Warning or Caution on the label including paint, automotive fluids, lawn and garden chemicals, cleaners, and many beauty products.

diaper-400px

Properly dispose of sharps and prescription drugs. HHW can be properly disposed through your local HHW program. Everything else should go in the trash. And toilet paper? Only in the toilet!

For the most complete list of items that should and shouldn’t go in your curbside recycling bin, download the Recycle More, Recycle Better flier.

green cleaning sponge on top of pair of orange cleaning gloves

Rid your home of dangerous chemicals

icons of bug spray, motor oil, 9-volt battery and paintThe can of bug spray on the shelf… the toilet cleaner and drain opener in the cabinet… the old gas, lawn chemicals and paint stored in the garage… these products are all considered hazardous because the chemicals they contain pose a threat to human health and the environment.

Hazardous waste generated at your home is called Household Hazardous Waste (HHW). HHW is any flammable, toxic, corrosive or reactive product labeled “Danger”, “Warning”, or “Caution”, and none of these should be tossed into the regular trash.

Even when used as directed, many household chemicals can endanger health and safety and pose risks to children, pets, communities, wildlife and the environment.

Fortunately, there are convenient ways to safely dispose of your HHW. And for many of these products, there are safe alternatives that are readily available, easy to use, and often cheaper than their more dangerous counterparts.

Safe disposal

Missouri residents who live in Cass, Clay, Platte, Jackson and Ray counties, have access to proper HHW disposal through the Regional Household Hazardous Waste Program. Residents who live in participating communities can dispose of HHW for no cost at one of two HHW facilities or numerous HHW collection events. Missouri residents who don’t live in participating communities can dispose of HHW for a fee at Summit Waste Systems in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

Kansas residents who live in Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami, or Wyandotte counties can take their HHW to the HHW facility in their county for free.

Please note that these services are for residents only. Any hazardous waste not generated by a resident is classified as business hazardous waste by the states of Kansas and Missouri. This includes businesses, industry, manufacturing, rental property owners, nonprofits, governments, schools, churches, etc. It is illegal for these entities to take their hazardous waste to a residential collection facility or collection event. For more information, visit Business Hazardous Waste.

icons of baking soda, ecofriendly spray bottle, lemon wedge and spray bottleSafe alternatives

There are many safe alternatives to household chemicals. Baking soda, or Borax (a naturally occurring mineral) work well as mild, abrasive cleaners as alternatives to chlorine or silica-based scouring products. White vinegar is an all-purpose cleaner. It can be used on hard surfaces or glass as an alternative to ammonia-based cleaners and other corrosive products. Lemons are highly acidic, which makes them a strong cleaning agent. Plus, they provide a refreshing and clean scent.

For more information, including a list of recipes, visit Safe Alternatives.

Paints

Conventional paints contain several toxic chemicals: volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fungicides, biocides, and chemical pigments. When purchasing paint look for low VOC, low biocides and natural pigments.

Calculate the amount of paint you need for a project before buying to reduce the chance of running out before finishing the job, or having paint left over.

For more information on recycling, visit RecycleSpot.org.