Throwing away used medical sharps in the trash, recycling bin or flushing them down the toilet is illegal (SB 1305, 2006), 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, 936 million needles are used by self-injectors in California each year.
By law, used sharps must be placed in puncture-proof bio-hazard containers and disposed at a designated sharps disposal site. However, many sharps are improperly disposed and enter the waste or recycling stream where they pose a sticking risk to workers.
The pictures below from the City of Burbank illustrate 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 percentage packaged safely.
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. A recent study by Environmental Research and Education Foundation and the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) found that 4% of MRF workers are getting stuck and 95% of people improperly dispose of sharps.
See our Sharps Stewardship Videos on our YouTube page to watch Republic Services’ James Weglarz talk about Republics’ efforts to share in the end-of-life responsibilities and Dave Waye from Queen of the Valley Hospital talk about the successful collaboration between five private and public entities during their sharps take-back event.
CA Sharps Collection Resources
- A listing of San Luis Obispo County home-generated sharps disposal pharmacy participants
International Sharps EPR Programs
- North America
- Canada – Health Products Stewardship Association
- Nova Scotia Medications Disposal Program and Safe Sharps Bring-Back Program Fact Sheet
- Ontario Medications Return Program and Sharps Collection Program Fact Sheet
- Prince Edward Island Medication Return Program and Sharps Collection Program Fact Sheet
- Saskatchewan Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal Program Fact Sheet – “transitional” EPR program
- 2013 Annual Report on the Ontario Medications and Sharps Collection Program, Health Products Stewardship Association, 2014
- Canada – Health Products Stewardship Association
Sharps EPR in the United States
The County of Alameda passed an EPR ordinance for sharps on 11/15/15. The ordinance requires producers that sell sharps in Alameda County to participate in a product stewardship plan for the collection and disposal of sharps. The ordinance went into effect on 12/18/15.
By June 18, 2016 sharps producers must notify the County of their intent to participate in a product stewardship plan. Proposed product stewardship plans must be submitted to the County by December 18, 2016. More information is available on Alameda County Environmental Health’s Safe Drug and Consumer-Generated Sharps Disposal webpage.
Santa Cruz County
The County of Santa Cruz passed an EPR ordinance for pharmaceuticals and sharps on 12/8/15. The ordinance requires producers that sell sharps in Santa Cruz County to participate in a product stewardship plan for the collection and disposal of sharps. The ordinance went into effect on 1/8/16.
By March 1, 2016 sharps producers must submit proposed product stewardship plans to the County for review and approval.
San Luis Obispo County
In 2008 the County of San Luis Obispo adopted a “transitional EPR” 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 for providing sharps take back on the retailers with no funding from industry or other members of the product chain. In January, 2018, San Luis Opispo passed a full EPR ordinance, requiring manufactures to pay and manage the pharmaceutical and sharps waste in the county.
Santa Clara County
In 2018, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors has passed an ordinance (No. NS-517.92) requiring sharps manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies who produce and distribute medicines that require home injection to submit and implement a comprehensive plan for safe disposal of consumer-generated sharps waste. This ordinance builds upon the County’s success of the existing Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance, first passed in 2015 and revised in 2017, which provides safe, free and convenient drop-off of unwanted or expired medications. See the County Press Release for more information.
Transitional EPR Local Programs for Sharps
A “Transitional” EPR legislation/policy requires that other members of the product chain but not the producers themselves take responsibility for end-of-life management of the product. In California transitional EPR policy has typically impacted retailers but in other countries different members of the product chain have been included.
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.
In 2014 the Tulare County JPA and eight other cities in the county adopted sharps take-back Ordinance, modeled after the 2008 San Luis Obispo ordinance, which provide no-cost sharps take-back to Tulare residents. The ordinances require pharmacies and pet stores, among other retailers of sharps in Tulare County, to establish a system for collection of home-generated sharps waste in their retail outlet.
- Tulare County Sharps Brochure
- Tulare County Cities Mandate ‘Sharps’ Drop-off Boxes – Lewis Griswold, Fresno Bee, 7/5/14
Santa Cruz County
In August 2014 the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors adopted a sharps take-back ordinance, which requires every retailer and provider of sharps in the unicorporated area of the county to provide at no-cost a sharps take-back program to residents. The ordinance requires pharmacies and pet stores, medical or veterinary offices, clinics, hospitals and approved needle exchange programs located in the unincorporated area of the county to establish a system for collection of home-generated sharps waste on site during normal hours of operation. The ordinance provides several options for compliance. The ordinance takes effect September 5, 2014 with businesses required to establish collection programs by October, 1, 2014.
City of Galt
On October 20, 2015 the Galt City Council adopted a sharps take-back Ordinance which requires retailers selling needles within the City to provide safe disposal for their customers. The ordinance takes effect November, 20, 2015 with businesses required to establish collection programs by January 20, 2015.
Supporting Sharps Stewardship
Visit our 2015 Legislation page for current information on sharps stewardship legislation.
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.
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.
Sharps Stewardship Videos
Articles & Press
- Needles found at Recology recycling centers in Sonoma County at alarming rates– Press Democrat, 2/5/19
- Needles and the damage done , Sacramento News and Review, 2/22/18
- Survey of Downtown San Francisco Reveals Trash on Every Block 303 Piles of Feces and 100 Drug Needles– Bigad Shaban NBC Bay Area, 2/18/18
- Opioid Epidemic: Needles Thrown in Recycling Endanger Working – Jessica Mensch, CBS News – North Carolina, 1/25/2018
- New disposal option for California residents using Novo Nordisk medicines and needles, Novo Nordisk, PR Newswire 1/08/2018
- Focusing on Safe Disposal of Sharps and Pharmaceutical Waste – Babatola, Raphael, Sanborn. Western CIty Magazine, 10/2017
- Recycling is in trouble and you may be part of the problem – Paul Singer, USA TODAY, 4/20/2017
- Educating Patients About Sharps Disposal – Medical Board of California Winter Newsletter 2016 (article on page 11 of PDF)
- Sorting, Recycling Workers on Pins and Needles – Jennifer Bonnett, Lodi News-Sentinel, 3/25/2015
- A Prescription for Change: How Improperly Disposed Medications and Needles Are Affecting Our Community Health – The Marin Independent Journal, The Pacific Sun, 12/04/2014
- 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
- Household Needles in Municipal Solid Waste (MSW):Policy, Controls, and Material Recovery Facility (MRF) Safety , Environmental Research and Education Foundation, 2018
- California State Auditor’s Report: Home-Generated Sharps and Pharmaceutical Waste, May 2017
- CPSC’s Summary of Auditor’s Issues and Our Response, September 2017
- CalRecycle: State of Recycling in California, March 2015
- Sustainable and Safe Recycling: Protecting Workers Who Protect the Planet – National Council of Occupational Safety and Health, 2015
- The University of Massachusetts Lowell conducted a study released in 2015 titled Understanding sharps injuries in home healthcare: The Safe Home Care qualitative methods study to identify pathways for injury prevention. The research references a New Jersey survey through which 86% of the 44 respondents reported improper disposal of their sharps medical waste, 7% of which flushed their sharps down the toilet. Most interviewees put emphasis on the importance of free convenient and safe sharps disposal options for home users to prevent injuries. The study goes on to quote a sharps manufacturer, “…the number one thing would be free sharps containers…and number two would be a convenient drop-off and pick-up for these sharps containers”. The research concluded that sharps injuries are preventable through several public health options, including safe disposal practices.
- Workbook for Sharps Injury & Illness Prevention – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008