Sharps Disposal

Sharps Disposal

by Nicole Johnson, MPH, MA, DrPH (Candidate), Miss America 1999

This is a topic that we don’t think about often, but it is quite important.  When you live with diabetes, you undoubtedly have sharps around your home which means you could be a hazard to someone else and not know it.  If you are like me, not that I am advocating this, you might have syringes in your purse, test strips in your pocketbook and lancets in your coat pocket.


It is important for all of us to think about what we are doing with our disposable sharps.  Do you have children running around your home?  Do you have a spouse, partner or even housekeeper that helps empty garbage cans? Most of us can answer yes to at least one of those questions.  Because of that, we need to talk about sharps. (Are you feeling as much guilt as I am?)


Each year, Americans use over 3 billion needles, lancets and syringes, to manage medical conditions like diabetes at home.


Sharps are defined as any products with sharp edges that are used to draw blood or inject medications. One could also throw in anything that could puncture the skin or harm another if touched.


Recently, a new coalition was formed to address concerns related to sharps and other hazardous medical waste.


The Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal, comprised of medical, government and waste association and private sector companies, is working with the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate and promote alternative disposal methods for used needles and other medical sharps.  This coalition is supported partially by Becton Dickenson, one of the largest manufacturers of sharps equipment.


This coalition was formed because improper management of discarded needles and other sharps can pose a health risk to public service workers. For example, discarded needles may expose waste workers to potential needle stick injuries and potential infection when containers break open inside garbage trucks or needles are mistakenly sent to recycling facilities. Used needles have the potential of transmitting serious diseases like HIV and hepatitis.


The coalition has identified several types of safe disposal programs for those using sharps at home.


*            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 usually free, but sometimes have a nominal fee attached. Check with your pharmacist or other health care provider for disposal 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.


*            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.

(Information found at


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes on their website that according the American Diabetes Association, an easy way to get rid of used lancets or needles is to put them in a heavy-duty plastic or metal container with a tight-fitting lid (such as an empty laundry detergent bottle). When the container is full, you dispose of it according to your local waste-disposal rules.  The trick is figuring out what those local rules are.  You can call your local health department for information or even you Chamber of Commerce.  These agencies should be able to give you appropriate direction.  Another good resource, as mentioned before, is your doctor.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements for sharps disposal containers. The container must be:


*            closable


*            upright and stable during use


*            puncture resistant


*            leakproof at sides and bottom


*            properly labeled with the biohazard symbol and legend or color coded

Posted by