Improper sharps disposal can cause more than just a painful prick. For garbage, recycling and other waste disposal workers, it can mean serious infection and even death. Understanding the dangers of irresponsible sharps management is a crucial step in keeping everybody involved safe.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 3 billion sharps are used in homes across the United States each year. Without proper disposal, that’s 3 billion chances for disposal workers to become infected with Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV or numerous other infections.
In fact, the FDA deems proper sharps disposal so important that in 2011, the agency launched a new website dedicated entirely to promoting the issue. If you or anyone in your household uses sharps, proper disposal is paramount to avoid inadvertently infecting those around you.
What is Considered a Sharp?
Any object that pierces your skin and comes in contact with bodily fluids is considered a sharp. Once a sharp is used, it has the potential to contaminate anybody who pricks themselves with the object. Each of the following items is considered a sharp:
- Needles – Hollow needles for injecting drugs (medication) under the skin
- Syringes – Objects used to inject medicine or draw fluid from the body
- Lancets (“fingerstick” devices) – Instruments with a short, double-edged blade to draw blood for testing. Commonly used among diabetes patients
- Auto injectors – Auto injectors are syringes filled with fluid medication to be self-administered. These include epinephrine and insulin pens.
- Infusion sets – Tubing systems with a needle to inject drugs into the body
- Connection needles/sets – Needles connected to a tube used to transfer fluids in and out of the body. Generally used by patients on home hemodialysis.
All of these items must be discarded in accordance with FDA regulations. We’ll disclose the key guidelines in the next section as well as some common mistakes to avoid.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Sharps Disposal
The following rules are not just to keep you safe – failing to abide is against the law and could result in citations. When disposing of used sharps:
- Don’t discard sharps in an empty milk, detergent or other unapproved container. These containers are not thick enough to prevent sharps from poking through.
- Don’t place sharps in any trash can or recycling bin.
- Don’t flush sharps down the toilet.
- Do discard all sharps in approved, rigid containers.
- Do use a mail-back program like an MWRS kit for safe and easy disposal.
- Do look for approved drop-off sites, like designated pharmacies or police stations that collect sharps.
- Do call a medical waste removal service to pick up your sharps waste if it exceeds 50 pounds.
What to do if You get Accidentally Stuck by a Used Sharp
The FDA offers some safety procedures should you get accidentally stuck by another person’s used needles or sharps. Here are the steps to take:
- Immediately wash the exposed area with soap and water or skin disinfectant such as hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol.
- Call your physician or local hospital right away to get tested for any infections you may have picked up.
These instructions are the same should you get blood or other bodily fluids in your eyes, mouth, nose or on your skin.
Improper sharps disposal places anybody who comes into contact with the waste in extreme danger. Be a responsible sharps user and properly discard your sharps to keep the people around you healthy.