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Managing household medical sharps
Never put needles and other sharp medical items in the trash, recycling or medication collection drop boxes.
Medical sharps, such as needles, syringes and lancets, pose an injury risk for anyone who comes into contact with these items. Large numbers of sharps are used at home, work and on the road. If sharps are put in the trash or recycling, or flushed down the toilet, they can injure sanitation workers or cause equipment problems. Therefore, it is important to properly package and dispose of all sharps.
- Protect Yourself, Protect Your Community: Safe Options for Household Sharps Disposal
- Wisconsin Laws on Animal Medical Waste
Correct packaging of used medical sharps
To help reduce the risk of injury, follow these four steps to get medical sharps ready for safe disposal.
- Clip the needle points with needle clippers, or recap or re-sheathe discarded sharps to help prevent needle sticks. Recapping needles is prohibited in health care facilities because medical workers might stick themselves with contaminated needles, but individuals who administer their own medications are not at risk from their own needles.
- Place the sharps in rigid puncture-resistant containers with secure lids or caps. Acceptable containers include commercially available sharps containers or thick-walled plastic detergent or bleach bottles with screw caps. Unacceptable containers include coffee cans (the lids are too easily punctured), plastic milk jugs, plastic bags, aluminum cans and soda bottles.
- NOTE: DO NOT add bleach to the container. Bleach may not completely disinfect needles, and it could spill and injure you or waste handlers.
- Visibly label the sharps container with the words "biohazard," "infectious waste" or "sharps," or with the bio-hazard emblem. If you have put sharps in a recyclable container, label it "Do not recycle."
- When the container is full, sealed and labeled, store it out of reach of children and dispose of it properly at a sharps collection station or using another method described in the correct disposal tab.
Correct disposal of medical sharps
Here are several options for disposing of household sharps.
- Take your sharps to a registered sharps collection station.
- Contact your doctor, clinic or local hospital; many health care facilities accept sharps but are not required to register and therefore may not appear on the list of registered sharps collection stations.
- Call a local pharmacy, hospital, diabetes educator, public health department or solid waste or streets department about local options.
- For large quantities (50 pounds or more), hire a licensed infectious waste hauler.
- For small quantities up to 50 pounds, you may transport the sharps to an infectious waste treatment facility yourself. If you do transport sharps, use a proper container and put the container in the trunk or another enclosed part of your vehicle.
- Use a "mail-back" sharps program, which can be found by searching the internet. The company should provide containers and packaging which meet U.S. postal regulations.
- Reduce the amount of sharps you have to dispose by clipping the needles off the syringe. The needle-less syringe can go in the household trash.
- Buy an inexpensive needle destruction device. The device must both disinfect and break the needle so it can no longer be reused.
- NOTE: Products that merely solidify whole sharps, with or without disinfection, do not meet this standard. If their containers split open when crushed in a garbage truck, landfill workers may get injured.
Disposing of sharps generated away from home
If you need to use sharps when away from home, you may be able to find sharps boxes in public restrooms in airports, college dormitories, restaurants and highway rest areas. Hotels and motels may offer a small needle box for you to use in your room. You may also carry small sharps boxes to use when these other options are not available.
Some communities offer syringe exchange programs; these encourage illicit drug users to bring in their needles for proper disposal instead of discarding them in the environment.
List of sharps collection stations in Wisconsin
The DNR maintains a list of registered sharps collection stations a public service. In addition, many health care providers accept sharps but are not required to register with the DNR.
Frequently asked questions about sharps collection stations
- Who can use sharps collection stations?
Anyone, including businesses and institutions, who generates less than 50 pounds of sharps per month (including the weight of the container). However, some stations choose to accept sharps only from certain generators such as their patients, households or residents of a particular community. Call ahead to find out about any restrictions.
- How much does it cost?
Many sharps collection stations accept sharps for free. Others may charge some or all users a small fee, which by law must be "not-for-profit" and "cost only." Some stations only accept containers previously bought at that station. Call ahead to be sure.
- How can I find out more about a particular sharps collection station?
Each station's contact person is on the list and can answer questions about when a particular station is open, what it charges (if anything), who may use it, what kind of containers are accepted and whether replacement containers are provided or may be purchased.
- What if there isn't a sharps collection station near me?
See the suggestions under the "Correct disposal" tab.
- What if a station on the list no longer exists?
If a registered station has moved or no longer collects sharps, please ask the owner to notify the DNR of the changes in writing. If the owner is unavailable, please contact your local DNR Environmental Program Associate for the Waste and Materials Management Program.
- How can I set up a sharps collection station?
Wisconsin medical sharps collection program explains how to set up a collection station and offers examples of collection programs operating in Wisconsin.
Public health risks
Public health risks from sharps
Medical sharps are often found in household garbage and recyclables or flushed down the toilet. When these needles end up in the waste stream, they can injure waste haulers, landfill operators and recycling facility workers. When they are flushed down toilets, they may cause problems in plumbing and wastewater treatment plants or may end up on our beaches.
All needle stick injuries demand expensive testing, may cause long-term emotional stress and increase the risk of exposure to such infectious diseases as hepatitis B and human immunodeficiency virus from contaminated needles. Costs for a typical needle stick can run into the thousands of dollars.
To reduce public health risks, Wisconsin rules require all citizens to manage sharps safely. It is illegal to put sharps in the trash or with recyclables. Sharps must be packaged safely and treated either at a licensed medical waste incinerator or by methods that render the sharps non-infectious, broken and unable to be reused. It is not legal to merely solidify sharps.
The Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal , a collaboration of businesses, community groups, non-profits and governments, has more information on this topic.