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.

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.

Does your TV have an end-of-life plan?

As televisions continue to get bigger, better and significantly cheaper, people are replacing them more often. This means there are a lot of used TVs out there that should be donated or recycled.

Lead, mercury, and PVCs, oh my!

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Whether you’re talking about an old console TV from the 1970s or a modern flat screen, televisions contain many hazardous substances including lead, mercury, brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride. Properly recycling televisions prevents these heavy metals and hazardous materials from ending up in a landfill, harming our environment and endangering public health. Recycling also means that valuable materials such as metals, plastics and glass are extracted and used for new products.

Proper disposal

There are two options for properly disposing of televisions: donation and recycling. Donation is a great option for flat screen TVs that are fairly new and in good working condition. Many charities and thrift stores accept them. Always call first — some do not accept them at all (Goodwill for instance), and those that do have strict criteria.

You can recycle old and non-working televisions of all types and sizes at Best Buy and Midwest Recycling Center.

If you require pick up, your options are more limited. You can call a junk removal service, just be sure and ask if TVs are among the items they recycle and donate. You can also contact your trash hauler to see if they offer bulky-item pickup services that include TVs. Unfortunately, these usually just end up going to the landfill.

Always a fee

Whether you choose pickup or drop-off services, there is always a fee to recycle your television. Fees are charged because of the extra processing TVs require. If you want to ensure your television gets properly recycled, don’t give it to any individual or entity that states they will recycle it for free.

Certification matters

We recommend using recycling companies that are R2 and/or e-Stewards certified. R2 and e-Stewards are accredited, independent, third-party-audited certification programs that represent the highest standard for responsible electronics recycling and reuse. These certification programs are based on best practices in environmental health and worker safety, data security and all applicable laws.

To find out where you can properly dispose of your old TV, visit RecycleSpot.org.

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.

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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.