Smoke alarms

Ecotech Services is not accepting ionising type smoke alarms at this stage, pending further research.

Smoke alarms are an electronic device that uses either a photoelectric beam or a radioactive source to detect smoke.  They can and should be recycled at the end of their useful life to both recover the material from which they are made and to protect the environment.

There are various types of smoke alarms in use with the battery operated ionising type commonly used in households.  They are widely promoted by the New Zealand Fire Service and other organisations.  The cheaper units cost as little as $15 each and are sometimes installed in households free of charge.

The ionising type smoke alarm contains a pellet of the radioactive americium-241 isotope.  The half life of the isotope is 432 years. It has been calculated that the level of radioactivity of thirteen smoke detectors is comparable to a cubic metre of New Zealand soil.  On this basis recommendations are made to simply discard these smoke alarms.

They are able to be recycled with prices for the service in the United States ranging from $8.00 to $15.00 per unit (2016 prices).  This covers the collection and processing costs, and storage of the isotope in a radioactive storage facility.

The photoelectric type smoke alarm is easier to recycle than the ionising type since it does not contain any radioactive isotopes.

Other methods of detecting fires are with heat or carbon monoxide sensors and these are generally wired into a central fire alarm system. These units are also able to be recycled.

See also