Properly disposing of your home smoke detector

Rather than throw your old smoke detector in the waste bin, mail it to its manufacturer.

As conscientious Fermilab employees, we are aware that not all waste can be thrown in the trash bin. Certain products, such as many chemicals or radioactive items, fall under strict regulations that determine their methods of disposal. We can translate awareness of these regulations to our homes, correctly disposing of regulated items in a responsible way.

Our home smoke detectors are one such item. They contain a small radioactive source made of americium-241. It is not a very powerful source and emits much less radiation at one meter than is already present at normal background levels. However, the presence of the americium-241 often makes people leery of throwing it away in the regular trash.

It is legal to dispose of your home smoke detector in the trash, but a more environmentally friendly practice is to return the product to the manufacturer. Manufacturers are mandated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to ensure that the radioactive waste is properly disposed of at a nuclear waste disposal facility. If you choose to return the smoke detector to the manufacturer, here are some simple guidelines:

  • Return the entire smoke detector, intact, to the manufacturer.
  • DO NOT remove any components other than the batteries.
  • Ship the smoke detector by UPS ground or U.S. mail.
  • DO NOT use UPS air or FedEx air.

Even though Fermilab has a program in place for handling radioactive waste, it is NOT allowed to dispose of any consumer waste from our homes. So dispose of your home smoke detector by returning it to the manufacturer (see the contact information below). You can also contact your local fire department or city or county officials for information on the recycling or disposal of consumer waste products.

The following is contact information for the two most common smoke detector manufacturers:

For First Alert, BRK and Family Guard smoke detectors:

BRK Brands Inc.
3901 Liberty Street Road
Aurora IL 60504
For consumer inquiries call 800-323-9005.

For American Sensors and Dicon smoke detectors:

Dicon Inc.
20 Steelcase Road West Unit 3
Markham ON L3R 1B2
For consumer inquiries call 800-387-4219.

On the front of the package, write “For Recycling, $0 Value.”

For more information on recycling of waste products at Fermilab visit the ESH&Q recycling and waste Web page.

J.B. Dawson