Disposing of Medical Sharps

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.

Improper management of discarded needles and other sharps can pose a health risk to the public and waste 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. Janitors and housekeepers also risk injury if loose sharps poke through plastic garbage bags. Used needles can transmit serious diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis.

The Coalition has identified several types of safe disposal programs for self- injectors. Instead of placing sharps in the trash, self-injectors are encouraged to use any of these alternative disposal methods:

  • Drop Box or Supervised Collection Sites: Sharps users can take their own sharps containers filled with used needles to appropriate ollections sites: doctors' offices, hospitals, pharmacies, health departments, or fire stations. Services are free or have a nominal fee. Check with your pharmacist or other health care provider for 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 or online at www.nasen.org.
  • 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.

For More Information:

  • Call your local solid waste department or public health department to determine the correct disposal method for your area.
  • Ask your health care provider or local pharmacist if they offer disposal, or if they know of safe disposal programs in the area.
  • Contact the Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal at 1-800-643-1643 Ask about the availability of safe disposal programs in your area or for information on setting up a community disposal program. Visit http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/other/medical . This website also offers a list of all state health and solid waste/sanitation department contacts.
  • Visit the Safe Community Needle Disposal web site. This easy-to-use website is designed for anyone interested in safe needle disposal. It provides state-by-state and territory-by-territory summaries of the laws and regulations affecting the labeling, transportation, and disposal of used needles and other sharps in the community.


FDA Guidelines on Proper Methods of Disposing of Unused Medicine

For guidelines on proper methods of disposing of unused medicines, consult the following FDA link:
http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm101653.htm

Other useful resources:

As a general rule of thumb, do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet or drain unless the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs you to do so. For information on drugs that should be flushed visit the FDA’s website .

To dispose of prescription drugs not labeled to be flushed, you may be able to take advantage of community drug take-back programs or other programs, such as household hazardous waste collection events, that collect drugs at a central location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service and ask if a drug take-back program is available in your community.


If a drug take-back or collection program is not available:

  • Take your prescription drugs out of their original containers.
  • Mix drugs with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter or used coffee grounds.
  • Put this mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub, or into a sealable bag.
  • Conceal or remove any personal information, including Rx number, on the empty containers by covering it with black permanent marker or duct tape, or by scratching it off.
  • Place the sealed container with the mixture, and the empty drug containers, in the trash.