Through the Porter County Recycling & Waste Reduction program that was launched last July 1, the solid waste district has collected and recycled 346 old smoke detectors from residents.  “I would call that a successful first year,” said Therese Haller, executive director of Porter County Recycling. “That’s a lot of material that for once was properly managed, preventing any potential negative effects to humans or the environment.”

Smoke detectors pose a challenge for disposal because many use small amounts of radioactive material, americium-241, to detect smoke. The first of its kind in Northwest Indiana and one of only a couple offered throughout the state, the district sends the devices it collects to Curie Environmental Services, where the americium-241 is segregated and sent to a special waste fill. The hard plastic cases and remaining metals are also recycled and diverted from the solid waste stream. The cost for the first year of the program was $2,967.

“We hope the program continues to grow, as more people learn about it and take advantage of it,” Haller said. The Porter County Fire Association recommends checking all smoke detectors every six months to ensure they are in working order. They also recommend replacing smoke detectors every 10 years.

Before last July, there was no official solution to properly disposing of old smoke detectors in Porter County. “Over the years, we’ve answered calls from residents asking where they can responsibly dispose of their old smoke detectors,” she said. “Our answers have ranged from ‘throw them in your trash’ to ‘send them back to the manufacturers.’ It was a gray area. We had no definite solutions.”

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