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.

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.

What do you throw away?

Did you toss something into a trash can today? If you are like most people, you probably did — on average, about seven pounds’ worth. Have you ever really thought about what you throw away? The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) has thought about it and has studied it.

In September 2016, MoDNR began field work on a statewide waste composition study to better understand the types and amounts of materials sent to landfills. This study was completed in 2017.

The study involved collecting and sorting more than 250 samples of trash generated by households, institutions, businesses and industries — otherwise known as “municipal solid waste.” Each sample weighed more than 200 pounds and was hand-sorted into 48 categories. By the end of the study, more than 7,000 pounds of waste from 16 transfer stations and landfills was sorted and categorized.

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What do the results by weight show? You may be surprised:

  • Over 32 percent by weight of what we throw away falls into the “organics” category (food waste, wood, and yard waste).
  • The next largest category (26 percent) consists of paper products (cardboard, newsprint, office paper and compostable paper).
  • The single most prevalent material found was food waste, which accounted for about 15 percent of what was thrown away.
  • The second most prevalent material found was cardboard at more than 8 percent by weight.

The chart below reflects the composition percentages of the nine broad material categories.

Missouri Statewide Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Composition. Pie chart reflects the composition percentages of the nine broad material categories in Missouri landfills. Text reads "MSW Composition. Organics, 32.4%; Paper, 26%; Plastic, 15.3%; Inorganics, 12.7%; Textiles, 4.8%; Metal, 4.4%; Glass, 2.8%; Electronics, 1.2%; HHW, 0.4%.

The top ten components of residential, commercial and institutional waste are listed below. When summed, they account for over 59 percent of the overall municipal solid waste tonnage.

Top 10 Most Prevalent Materials in Statewide Municipal Solid Waste Stream. Bar graph reflects the top ten components of residential, commercial and institutional waste are listed below. When summed, they account for over 59 percent of the overall municipal solid waste tonnage from the study of Missouri landfills. Text reads "Top Ten Materials. Food Waste, 15%; Cardboard/Kraft Paper, 8.5%; Compostable Paper, 8.1%; Contaminated Film/Other Film, 5.9%; Wood - Painted/Stained/Treated, 4.5%; Mixed Recyclable Paper, 4%; Wood - Clean/Untreated, 3.7%; Remainder/Composite Organic, 3.5%; Disposable Diapers & Sanitary Products, 3.1%; Bulky Items/Furniture, 3.1%.

Municipal solid waste accounts for approximately 67 percent of all of the waste sent to landfills for disposal. The study also evaluated other waste streams including construction waste, demolition debris, industrial waste, special waste and “other” waste. The chart below illustrates Missouri’s combined waste stream.

Missouri Statewide Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Composition Disposed. Pie chart shows percentages of materials disposed of in Missouri landfills. Text reads "Combined Waste composition. Organics, 26.5%; Paper, 18.2%; Plastic, 11.4%; Inorganics, 15.3%; Textiles, 3.3%; Metal, 3.4%; Glass, 2%; Electronics, 0.9%; HHW, 0.4%; Non-MSW, 18.7%.

This is the third time that Missouri has conducted a waste composition study, with earlier studies conducted in 1998 and 2008. If you would like to learn more about the types and quantities of solid waste disposed of in Missouri landfills, all study information can be found on the MoDNR website.

And the survey says…

Residents feel it’s important to recycle

Image of Blue curbside recycling bin. Text reads: "73% of residents are recycling more than they did in 2012"In October 2017, the MARC Solid Waste Management District contracted with ETC Institute to conduct a recycling survey of residents in the nine-county Kansas City metro area. The survey evaluated current recycling activities and knowledge to determine what recycling services residents would like to see in the future, and determine focus areas for expanded services and outreach priorities. The survey also looked at how citizens’ values, behavior and awareness levels have changed since the 2005, 2008 and 2012 surveys.

Curbside is king

When asked how much emphasis their household places on recycling, 82 percent of the residents surveyed indicated their household recycles most of the time, and 10 percent recycle all the time. This is due in large part to the increasing availability of curbside recycling in the metro area. More than 73 percent of residents reported they are recycling more compared to five years ago, specifically because curbside recycling is available.

The recycling activities that residents participated in most frequently — in addition to curbside recycling — were recycling plastic bags (65 percent) and recycling glass food and beverage containers (59 percent). The waste reduction activity that residents participated in most often was donating clothing and household items (94 percent).

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Satisfaction ratings

Respondents were most satisfied with services available for clothing and household item donation (81 percent), curbside recycling services (80 percent), materials accepted in curbside programs (63 percent), and yard waste collection and composting services (56 percent).

However, since the 2012 survey, satisfaction decreased in several areas including glass container recycling services. This is not surprising, given that, since 2009, the only widely available option for recycling glass in the metro area has been drop-off collection. Satisfaction has also decreased with the lower availability of drop-off recycling locations. Several communities (eight in the last two years) have closed their recycling centers and many schools and churches have closed their recycling drop-off bins to the public due to increased costs.

Government role

Most residents support public policies to improve recycling and waste reduction. Since the 2012 survey, residents also showed increased support for local government to:

  • Inform the public about existing programs/services (six percent increase).
  • Support waste reduction and recycling programs (four percent increase).
  • Educate on the importance of waste reduction/recycling (seven percent increase).
  • Develop policies to expand waste reduction/recycling (four percent increase).

However, many respondents are unwilling to pay for trash collection services based on the amount of trash set out for disposal (46 percent). In fact, since 2012, there was a significant decrease in the level of support for cities and counties implementing pay-as-you-throw programs (down 12 percent).

The road forward

The services residents would most like to see offered or expanded in their community are: glass container recycling, household hazardous waste collection, computer/electronic recycling, bulky-item pickup and expanded curbside collection service. More than half of those surveyed indicated that they would be willing to recycle food waste through curbside programs.

Residents indicated a decreased interest in receiving recycling information through city newsletters, the Kansas City Star or their local newspaper, and an increased interest in receiving it from an internet source that’s easy to find (53 percent) and utility bills (40 percent).

Finally, residents were asked if they had ever put something in a curbside recycling bin that they weren’t sure was recyclable — 53 percent indicated that they had. And 60 percent of residents reported they were recycling “everything possible.” Given the high contamination rates in curbside recycling and the fact that “everything possible” doesn’t account for all the additional recyclable items respondents are unaware of, the MARC Solid Waste Management District is going to double-down on helping residents not only to recycle more, but recycle better in 2018.

The full survey is available on the district’s website.

colorful plastic shopping bags on wooden background

Bring back your bags — and more!

Most plastic bags and wraps are made with materials that are recyclable. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean they can go in your curbside recycling bin. Why? Most facilities that manage curbside-collected recyclables use machines to separate rigid materials like cans, bottles or paper products. Due to their size and shape, plastic bags and wraps end up clogging the machinery. Employees must remove the plastic by hand, which is a time-consuming and potentially dangerous task.

So what can you do with them? They can still be recycled, they just require a different system. Many retail  and grocery stores offer free drop-off locations for  bags and films to be properly recycled. All you need to do is make sure the bags and wraps are clean and dry, and that you have removed any non-plastic items such as receipts and labels.

Let’s recap some of the “DOs” and “DON’Ts.”

Please DO recycle:

  • Grocery and retail bags. (Not in your curbside bin, but at a retail or grocery store with a collection bin. Don’t forget to remove the receipts!)
  • Newspaper, bread, produce and dry cleaning bags.
  • The outer wrapping from bulk beverages, napkins, paper towels, bathroom tissue and diapers.
  • Cereal and cracker box liners. (Unless they tear like paper.)
  • Bubble wrap and air pillows. (Pop the bubbles and deflate the pillows.)
  • Resealable storage bags. (Make sure they are clean, dry and don’t have any food residue.)
  • Poly mailers or plastic shipping envelopes. (Remove the shipping labels first.)
  • Document mailing/shipping envelopes such as FedEx Paks or Tyvek® envelopes. (Remove the shipping labels first).

Please DON’T recycle:

  • Plastic bags that tear like paper. (Recyclable bags have some stretch to them.)
  • Cellophane. (The plastic that makes a “crinkly” sound.)
  • Frozen food and pre-washed salad bags.
  • Food or cling wrap.
  • Candy wrappers. (You can recycle the bag that the candy came in.)
  • Snack bags, such as pretzels and potato chip bags.
  • Coffee pouches or other resealable food pouches, such as shredded cheese or trail mix.
  • Pet food bags.
  • Zippered packaging for bedding and garments.
  • Biodegradable or compostable bags.

If you come across a bag or film that is not listed above, a simple test will determine whether it is accepted for recycling or not. If you give the bag or wrap a slight tug and it stretches, it is likely recyclable. If it rips or tears similar to paper, it is likely not. When in doubt, don’t include bags or films you are unsure of — toss them into the trash.

Plastic bags and wraps can be recycled into many useful products, such as low-maintenance fencing and decking, building and construction materials and of course, new bags.

So remember, take your bags and wraps back on your next trip to the store!

For more information about plastic bag recycling, visit PlasticFilmRecycling.org.