The Safety of Others: Disposing of Your Sharps

Look for sharps recycle bins like this one

Lancets and needles are the life blood of people with diabetes.  These supplies help keep you aware of your metabolic control and deliver the medicines you need to achieve target glucose levels.

But they are sharp and have the potential of hurting others if not deposed of properly. Blood can transmit microorganisms to unsuspecting bystanders who handle the trash.

In addition to causing individual injury, medical waste sharps can be a hazard to the environment.

Throwing sharps (insulin syringes, pen needles, lancets and some pump needles) unprotected in the regular trash is irresponsible and often illegal in many areas.

To prevent yourself or others from getting a sharp stick following these simple directions for used sharp containment.

  1. Call your local health department and find out the proper way your town disposes of sharps.  Not all city or towns allow you to throw even well-secure sharps in the regular trash.  You may have to bring your sharps to a special disposal location.  In Massachusetts, for example, effective this July 1, 2012 no home sharps or hypodermic needles can be placed in household waste.
  2. Obtain a strong opaque plastic or metal container with a tight cap.  An empty laundry detergent or bleach bottle is usually easily available and makes a good choice.   Put all of your used supplies in the container.  Avoid using glass bottles or see through containers.   Also avoid any container that you plan to recycle.  Sharps are considered medical waste and cannot be recycled.
  3. Never recap needles or syringes. And don’t try to break or bend syringes. You may stick yourself or cut yourself in the process.
  4. Keep the container in a place where children and animals can’t reach it and remember to securely cover it at all times.
  5. When the container is full, cap it and secure it with tape.

The Environmental protection agency lists several different methods to dispose of sharps.

  • Drop Box or Supervised Collection Sites
    Sharps users can take their own sharps containers filled with used needles to appropriate collections sites: doctors’ offices, hospitals, pharmacies, health departments, or fire stations. Services are free or have a nominal fee. Check with your pharmacist or other health care provider for availability in your area.
  • Mail-Back Programs
    Sharps users place their used sharps in special containers and return the container by mail to a collection site for proper disposal. This service usually requires a fee. Fees vary, depending on the size of the container. Check with your health care provider, pharmacist, yellow pages, or search the Internet using keywords “sharps mail back.”
  • Syringe Exchange Programs (SEP)
    Sharps users can safely exchange used needles for new needles. Contact the North American Syringe Exchange Network at (253) 272-4857 or online at www.nasen.org.
  • At-Home Needle Destruction Devices
    Several manufacturers offer products that allow you to destroy used needles at home. These devices sever, burn, or melt the needle, rendering it safe for disposal. Check with your pharmacist or search the internet using keywords “sharps disposal devices.” The prices of these devices vary according to product type and manufacturer.

For more information:

  • Call your local solid waste department or public health department to determine the correct disposal method for your area.
  • Ask your health care provider or local pharmacist if they offer disposal, or if they know of safe disposal programs in the area.
  • Contact The Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal t (800) 643-1643. Ask about the availability of safe disposal programs in your area or for information on setting up a community disposal program. Visit the States page of EPA’s Wastes Web site for links to state health and solid waste/sanitation department contacts.
  • Visit the Center for Disease Control’s Safe Community Needle DisposalWeb site. This easy-to-use Web site is designed for anyone interested in safe needle disposal. It provides state-by-state and territory-by-territory summaries of the laws and regulations affecting the labeling, transportation, and disposal of used needles and other sharps in the community.

And don’t forget to carry a portable sharp containment device to collect the sharps you use when you are away from home.

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