Throwing away used medical sharps in the trash, recycling bin or flushing them down the toilet is illegal, as it poses serious health risks to children, sanitation workers, water treatment facility operators and the general public. An estimated one million Californians inject medications, generating more than 389 million used sharps each year.
These pictures from the City of Burbank exemplify the problem. Improperly disposed used sharps in Burbank curbside recycling bins were collected over an eight month period. During this time, two workers were stuck by needles and had to undergo medical testing for infectious diseases. Some of these containers hold thousands of needles, with only a small percent packaged safely.
Workers who sort recyclables by hand are at risk of being stuck by used sharps every day.
By law, sharps must be placed in puncture-proof bio-hazard containers and disposed at a designated sharps disposal site.
This situation poses an opportunity for companies who manufacture sharps and injectable medications to share in the responsibility for these products at their end-of-life to protect public health.
Not sure where to dispose of your sharps? Go to Earth 911's website to find a location near you.
Supporting Sharps Stewardship
Del Norte County
CPSC partnered with the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority (DNSWMA) on a grant to foster more product take-back programs. CPSC and DNSWMA developed outreach materials to educate the citizens of the County on proper sharps disposal and to help them to protect their neighbors and community from needlestick injuries.
San Luis Obispo County
In 2008 the County of San Luis Obispo adopted a sharps management ordinance, setting up a program for the public to conveniently and safely take back used sharps to a retailer, free of charge. The ordinance places the responsibility of the disposal costs with the sharps manufacturers and retailers.
City of Sacramento
In 2010, Sacramento adopted a sharps take-back ordinance that required all retail stores, hospitals, and other points of sale or distributors of sharps for home use in the City to take back sharps at no additional cost to the customer at the time of return.
UltiCare's "UltiGuard Safe Pack" provides an all-in-one solution that dispenses pen needles or syringes and doubles as a puncture-resistant sharps container. UltiCare is owned by UltiMed, the only sharps manufacturer that only sells sharps with a container for safe disposal, at no additional cost to the consumer. For more information, see their website.
Articles & Press
- New Plan for Needles, Syringes - Adam Spencer, The Triplicate 3/21/12
- To the Point: The Risk Home Sharps Disposal Poses to Waste Workers - Christine M. Lederer, Waste360 1/8/12
- Most Drug Makers Failing at Providing Safe Needle Disposal - California Sharps Coalition 6/7/11
- Workbook for Sharps Injury & Illness Prevention - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008
- Preventing Blood-Borne Infections Through Pharmacy Syringe Sales & Safe Community Syringe Disposal - Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, 2003
- CalRecycle Sharps Information Webpage
- Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal
- FDA Information on Safe Disposal of Sharps
- Nova Scotia Sharps Stewardship Program
- Product Stewardship Institute: Sharps