How To Properly Dispose of Smoke Detectors

Published July 2019
By Steve Jacobs, Environmental Division Manager
Ionizing Smoke Detector

Why Should I Properly Dispose of Smoke Detector?

Customers frequently ask us about properly disposing of smoke detectors and why they are different from other electronic scrap wastes.

With these life-saving devices in nearly every home, you would assume disposal would be fairly easy. So why can’t we just throw these devices in the trash? The answer is more complicated than you may think.


Types of Smoke Detectors


Ionizing Smoke Detector with Americium 241 Chamber, Circuit Board, Horn and Battery
Smoke Detectors; Common Styles


The two most common types of smoke detectors are photoelectric detectors and ionizing detectors.


Photoelectric smoke detectors use an invisible beam of light similar to the safety sensor on most residential garage door openers.

When enough smoke enters the detector, it blocks the light beam shining on the sensor and triggers the alarm to alert us of the fire (or in my case, poor cooking skills).



In an ionizing detector, the beam of light is replaced by a beam of particles emitted from a small amount of Radioactive material called Americium 241.  These ionizing types of detectors require special handling to prevent exposure to the radioactive materials and prevent them from being shredded along with other e-scrap wastes in our recycling process.

Smoke Detectors; Common Styles
Ionizing Smoke Detector Showing Radioactive Symbol

It can be difficult to tell the difference between types of smoke detectors.  Both types typically contain a circuit board with lead solder and batteries which can contain cadmium or lead.  This makes it difficult for recycling facilities to ensure they are complying with federal regulations and prevent contamination.  When used as intended, smoke detectors are very safe for use and necessary to protect your business or home.


Need Help Identifying and Disposing of Your Smoke Detectors?

TRC offers cost effective disposal options for all types of Smoke Detectors and E-scrap wastes. Contact our customer service department for more information.