Disposal of medical sharps and needles is a serious issue in the U.S., as they are not recyclable. Improper management of either could pose a health risk to not only the public, but also to waste management workers. Discarded needles can expose all of us to potential injuries and infection when containers break open or needles are mistakenly sent to recycling facilities. Loose sharps can poke through plastic garbage bags and, of course, used needles can transmit serious diseases. While there isn’t a uniform disposal method, there are options to dispose of medical sharps and needles through various outlets. Pharmacies and fire stations are the easiest if they are close by, but we also found several national mail-back collections online as well. These include: Mail Your Sharps, Medasend Medical Waste Mail-Back Service, Sharps Compliance Incorporated and Stericycle Mailback Program. In 2000, a Eureka! Sharps disposal method (common in the U.S.) was put into place in Rhode Island for residential use of medical sharps and needles. Forty kiosks were placed in pharmacies, fire stations and police stations throughout the state, and the program was quite successful. However, funding was lost and home users were advised to dispose of their medical sharps in thick, plastic containers, and then put those containers in their trash. Where do many end up? In recycling bins. As of June of this year, Rhode Island’s recycling facility has recovered 450 pounds of needles that found their way to recycling lines. Now do you believe that this is a serious issue? Clean Water Action, a nonprofit that organizes strong grassroots groups, coalitions and campaigns to elect environmental candidates and solve environmental and community problems, is proposing a bill (H5888/S459) that would help reinstate a home-based medical sharp recycling program in Rhode Island. If approved, this “producer responsibility” policy would require manufacturers to pay for the collection and recycling of their products. By doing so, Clean Water Action hopes that it “encourages them to design products that are less toxic, more durable and more recyclable.” The organization also feels that it “allows the end-of-life costs of the product to be incorporated into the total cost of the product.” Producer responsibility would allow flexibility for manufacturers to decide how best to implement recycling programs and, by creating the right incentives for manufacturers to make better products, means less of a burden on taxpayers and on the environment. So, what would we expect to see? Kiosks back in pharmacies, fire stations and police stations with the funding and maintenance to be taken care of by the sharps manufacturers, either directly or by a third-party group that the manufacturers organized. In addition to medical sharps and needles, Clean Water Action is also focusing on producer responsibility for paint and mattresses as well. To learn more, visit Rhode Island’s Clean Water Action producer responsibility campaign online. You can also view a video directly related to medical sharps. For nearby locations to safely dispose of medical sharps, see our recycling location finder.
The Fight to Make Medical Sharps Recyclable
Medical sharps continue to clog up landfills and mistakenly end up in municipal recycling bins. Identifying a proper recycling program is the solution.