Answer Man

Got old smoke detectors? It’s OK to put them in the garbage

Q: What can I do with a household full of ionization smoke alarms, which say they contain ninth-tenths of a microcurie of the radioactive material americium? I’ve tried calling everyone I can think of, but nobody has been able to give me an answer.

S.F., of Belleville

A: I know it probably defies common sense, but Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful, an award-winning environmental group in Loves Park since 1988, says you can dispose of them with the rest of your non-recyclable garbage. Whatever is left of that tiny bit of americium apparently is not worrisome.

The state’s Environmental Protection Agency recommends that such smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors be disposed of in the household trash, KNIB says. Just remove the batteries and consider securing it in a heavy-duty zippered plastic bag.

“These detectors are not on the list of electronics to be recycled,” KNIB says. “They are not accepted at Illinois household hazardous waste (collections).”

However, if you don’t mind the muss, fuss and expense, consider contacting the original manufacturer and see if and how you might return them for recycling. The U.S. Postal Service conveniently lists many of the more prominent makers — including Kidde, G.E. and First Alert — along with phone numbers, addresses and websites at

If you find no satisfaction there, you might look up Curie Environmental Services ( in New Mexico, which offers CuriePacks for mailing back alarms containing Am-241. For $8 each, the company will recycle any alarm with fewer than 5 microcuries that you send them. Or you can buy one of their mailer kits, which include shipping and recycling — $49.99 for a four-alarm kit and $219 for a container that will hold up to 25. Ra-226 and Ni-63 alarms are accepted at additional cost. Call 505-888-9392 or go to the website for details.

As always, thanks for caring about the environment.

Today’s trivia

Which president apparently was the first to use the term “lunatic fringe” — and what did it refer to originally?

Answer to Monday’s trivia: I am hoping that my clue “former St. Louis resident” helped you take at least an intelligent stab at naming the writer who penned the play “Green Eyes.” Yes, it was none other than two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams, who in 1970 wrote the one-act drama about a lurid one-night encounter between a soldier on leave and his new bride in a New Orleans hotel room. It remained unpublished and unperformed for nearly 30 years after his death in 1983. Bonus fact: If you’ve never read it closely, the characters in his 1944 breakthrough play “The Glass Menagerie” refer to a Soldan High School, which is where Williams spent part of his high school years in St. Louis.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer