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Fire alarms keep us safe in our homes and workplaces. Their heat and/or smoke sensors set off an alarm to warn those in the building of a potential fire outbreak. When they stop working they must be repaired or replaced immediately to maintain the property’s safety standards.

Sometimes a fire alarm may just need new batteries. If it’s completely broken or irreparable then it’s important you dispose of and recycle it responsibly. Discover how to dispose of and recycle a fire alarm from your home or business in this guide.

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When were fire alarms invented?

The first fire alarm was invented by accident in the 1930s. Swiss physicist Walter Jaeger was seeking to discover ways of detecting poison gases on the battlefield and within civilian environments. Upon lighting a cigarette, Jaeger discovered that his invention detected poison gas and smoke particles in the air as well.

More affordable and refined home smoke detectors were invented in 1965 by Stuart Bennett Peterson and Duane D. Pearsall. They played a significant role in fire safety in homes across the world.

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What are fire alarms made from? 

The standard elements that make up a fire alarm are a battery, electronics, and a plastic case. Fire alarms also feature americium oxide in their construction. This is because it’s mildly radioactive, and when the ions are blocked by smoke in the air the alarm sounds.

There are also small amounts of silver and gold in a smoke alarm. These are responsible for receiving the charge emitted by the traces of americium oxide.

Where can you recycle fire alarms for free?

You should take old fire alarms to your local household waste recycling centre (HWRC) if they accept them. Many will ask you to remove and recycle the batteries separately where possible. Often you can then recycle the fire alarm with other waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in the dedicated container.

If this isn’t the case, contact a nearby electronics store or the retailer where you purchased your fire alarm. They may offer a takeback scheme or be able to advise you on where to recycle your fire alarm.

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Fire alarm recycling

The disposal and recycling of a fire alarm depends on the construction of the alarm itself. If you have an alarm with more traditional construction that’s reliant on americium oxide, you will need to go to your local HWRC for expert disposal of the old device.

Should your fire alarm not contain radioactive materials, you may be able to dispose of it with the rest of your household waste. However, this is only recommended if your local HWRC doesn’t have any specific fire alarm disposal arrangements – as expertise offered by a disposal centre is always a valuable tool in the disposal process.

Problems with fire alarm waste

The main problem with fire alarm waste disposal is the use of Americium-241. Although this material is minimally radioactive, it still emits alpha particles into the air and materials around it. Although mostly harmless, in the case that there’s excessive rainfall, this radioactive material may seep into the local water supply.

By remaining vigilant with fire alarm waste and disposing of it safely, you can ensure that your fire alarm won’t cause risks to the local environment and those living around you.

Alternatives to fire alarms

There are very few feasible alternatives to fire alarms. Without having a fire alarm in place, properties are at increased risk of an accident that could lead to the structure burning to the ground. They are undeniably one of the most important parts of a property.

The only potential alternatives, such as a carbon dioxide detector, use similar radioactive materials in the detection process. Fire alarms, therefore, have no reasonable alternatives that don’t cause the same damage through their disposal as fire alarms themselves.

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Facts about fire alarms

Here are a few facts about fire alarms:

  • People living in a property where a fire occurs are four times more likely to survive thanks to the advanced warning offered by a fire alarm.
  • Most fire alarm faults are because the alarm’s batteries have run out – not that the alarm itself is faulty.
  • Smoke alarms should be present on every floor of the house to give comprehensive protection from fire, with additional alarms recommended in sleeping areas.
  • Fire alarms should be replaced every 10 years to ensure that the ionising material in the alarm emits ions at the rate it should.
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