Medical Sharps Disposal

Every year, people throughout the country use billions of needles, syringes and lancets — also known as sharps — to manage medical conditions at home. Improperly discarded sharps potentially expose people to infection or injury, posing a health risk not only to sanitation, housekeeping and janitorial workers, but also pets, children and other family members. Besides stick wounds, used needles can also transmit serious diseases from herpes to HIV. The following guidelines offer safe and convenient methods to properly dispose sharps and protect yourself and others.

Disposal Facilities

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified several ways to safely discard medical sharps. When possible, use the following instead of placing sharps in a solid waste receptacle:

  • Drop-Off Collection Sites Ask workers at doctor’s offices, hospitals, health clinics, pharmacies, health departments, community organizations, police stations and medical waste facilities if the facility offers a drop-off sites or collection events for properly packaged medical sharps. This allows those who give themselves medical injections to continue using empty household containers to collect needles, while still preventing the sharps from entering household waste bins.
  • Mail-back Programs Usually involving a fee, mail-back programs are sometimes available for individual sharps users as well as community collection sites. These programs especially benefit rural communities, facilities without a medical waste pick-up service and individuals who wish to protect their privacy. For these programs, used sharps are placed in special containers and mailed in accordance with U.S. Postal Service requirements. [Sub] Dos and Don’ts Home sharp users should practice the following if drop-off or mail-back options are not available:
  • Place sharps in either a medical sharps container (purchased from a pharmacy or health care provider) or in a heavy-plastic or metal container.
  • Use household containers, such as plastic detergent bottles, only if the lid is secured with heavy-duty tape and the words, “Do Not Recycle,” are written on the container with a permanent marker.
  • Never place the container in the recycle bin. • Ensure containers are be puncture-proof with a tight lid. • Refrain from using a clear or glass container.
  • Do not overfill containers.
  • Keep containers out of reach from children and pets.
  • Fully encapsulate sharps prior to disposal in a solid waste receptacle. (You can add quick drying cement, plaster or similar materials to the container of sharps as long as you allow the container to dry before disposal.)