Smoke detectors have a limited life span, usually specified at ten years. Testing your detector with actual smoke is the only way to be sure it will work when needed. The most common type of smoke detector contains a small amount of Americium 241, a radioactive material. On your wall or ceiling this presents little threat. The material can pose a health hazard when broken open in an incinerator or landfill. For this reason all detectors must, by law, be labeled as to radioactive content.
Detector companies accept returned radioactive detectors for disposal as hazardous waste. Unfortunately the companies seem to assume you’ll keep the instruction booklet on hand for the entire life of the product, and don’t always put good contact information on the case.
The Recycle Depot does not accept smoke detector for disposal. The vast majority of smoke detectors are made by First Alert Corporation. Send old detectors to First Alert, Radioactive Waste Disposal, 780 McClure Road, Aurora, IL 60504-2495, 1-800-323-9005. Others are made by a Canadian firm called American Sensors, dial 1-800-387-4219 for information. The companies sell detectors under many different brand names, and can dispose of any of them. Send detectors by surface mail or UPS Ground so they don’t end up in an airplane.