How to correctly dispose of and recycle fire extinguishers
Of all the fire safety products on the market, fire extinguishers (and fire alarms) are arguably one of the most important to have in your home or workplace, but there are some things about them that you might not know. For example, did you know those fire extinguishers can expire? It’s important to know how to properly dispose of the different types of fire extinguishers. Read on to find out more.
What type of waste is a fire extinguisher?
An empty or expired fire extinguisher is classed as hazardous waste.
Who invented the fire extinguisher?
The first portable fire extinguisher was invented by British Captain George William Manby in 1818. He developed a hand-pumped, powder-based extinguisher that he mounted on a cart to use at sea. But it wouldn’t be until 1850 when ‘in case of fire break glass’ extinguishers would be used. It would take another 60 years before they were made available to all people, not just professionals. The first dry chemical extinguisher was created in 1910.
What are fire extinguishers made from and how are they made?
Fire extinguishers consist of a hand-held cylindrical pressure vessel containing an agent, usually water or dry chemical powder, with an operating mechanism to discharge it.
The pressure vessel and valve are made of metal. Attached to the vessel is a rubber hose through which the fire-fighting agent is directed towards the fire. Inside the vessel are the agent and the propellant (a gas that forces the agent out of the vessel).
Depending on which agent is used, there are different propellants:
• Water extinguishers contain water in the vessel, with nitrogen or carbon dioxide gas as the propellant.
• Foam extinguishers contain a mixture of water and ‘Aqueous Film Forming Foam’. AFFF is comprised of hydrocarbon-based surfactants ( eg. sodium alkyl sulfate) and fluorosurfactants. They also use nitrogen gas as a propellant.
• A dry powder fire extinguisher’s fire-fighting agent is most commonly monoammonium phosphate. It can also be sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or potassium bicarbonate. These extinguishers use nitrogen gas as a propellant.
• Carbon dioxide extinguishers contain carbon dioxide in the vessel in both liquid and gas form. In this case, carbon dioxide is both the agent (in liquid form) and the propellant (in gas form).
Fire extinguisher disposal
Fire extinguishers can be recycled, but since chemical types are classed as hazardous waste, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates their disposal and restricts disposal sites to certified professionals. The most effective way to get rid of an unwanted fire extinguisher is to take it back to your local waste disposal company.
Alternatives like foam or carbon dioxide fire extinguishers don’t pose these issues and can be disposed of through normal channels, like your local waste management facility.
Problems with disposing of fire extinguishers
If disposed of improperly, these can leak hazardous chemicals into our water supply. A major problem is also illegal dumping. If left unattended, they can easily be picked up and taken to illegal dump sites or otherwise discarded carelessly, causing damage to property and posing serious health risks to humans, animals, plants and ecosystems.
Alternatives to fire extinguishers
If you want to avoid using fire extinguishers, you can try to smother small fires by covering them with a blanket or other object. If they’re electrical in nature, turn off all power to your home immediately. A wet cloth can be effective when it comes to certain kitchen fires, and a pot lid can stop a grease fire in its tracks. In some cases though, using a fire extinguisher will be your best and safest option. Always remember to put your safety first when dealing with a fire.
If you’re wondering what you can do if you encounter an electrical fire with no nearby extinguisher, try to find something non-flammable to throw over it until help arrives.
Facts about fire extinguishers
• An extinguisher’s ABC rating denotes how much water and what type of fire-extinguishing chemicals it contains: A is for ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, and most plastics; B is for flammable liquids such as gasoline, kerosene, grease and oil; C is for electrical fires.
• A United States company known as ABC Labs developed non-toxic dry chemical extinguishers in 1955 after they started receiving calls about suffocation caused by CO2 extinguishers.
• Fire extinguishers expire. Their typical life expectancy is around 12 years but should be checked regularly to maintain their quality.
Where can you take a fire extinguisher to recycle/dispose of it for free?
• A local fire station
• Hazardous waste disposal facilities
Fire extinguishers are a crucial part of safety at home and in business. Fires can break out at any time, so knowing how to use an extinguisher can be an invaluable skill to have. It’s equally important, though, to know how to properly dispose of them to avoid further hazards. With these facts in mind, you’ll be ready if you ever need to dispose of an old fire extinguisher.