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Because You Asked

Can I Recycle Medical Sharps?

By Recyclebank |

The nature of needles, syringes, and other sharps means they shouldn’t be recycled.


Dear Recyclebank,

How do you recommend recycling sharps from diabetic testing supplies?

-Glenda M.

Dear Glenda,

Whether you depend on daily blood sugar tests and insulin injections or you have been prescribed a one-time medical injection, it is important to properly dispose of any medical sharps (such as needles or lancets) to avoid injuring yourself and others. According to the FDA, about 9 million Americans use needles or other sharps at home, amounting to over 3 billion sharps being disposed of each year.

While it would be nice to reuse those materials in new products, safety trumps recycling when it comes to medical waste. Sharps should never be thrown loosely in the trash or recycling, as they could easily prick people or pets at home, as well as sanitation workers that are doing the waste collection and processing. Proper disposal helps prevent the spread of blood-borne infections like Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV, among others. The safest option is to participate in sharps collection programs, which send the materials to a medical incinerator.

Proper disposal varies from community to community, so check local regulations for guidance. Use BD’s state map of disposal guidelines as a starting point.

Generally speaking, this is the best way to collect your sharps and prep them for disposal:

  • Put them in a rigid plastic container that won’t break or puncture. This is a great opportunity to put unrecyclable rigid plastic containers to use (don’t use glass, which could easily break).
  • Make sure the container can be tightly closed with a screw-top lid.
  • Clearly label your collection container with what’s inside and how it should be disposed of: “Sharps. Do Not Recycle.” Adding the universal biohazard symbol can help others quickly identify the container, too.
  • Place used sharps in the container immediately after use; don’t try to recap needles, which might result in injury.
  • Keep containers out of reach of children and pets.
  • When container is two-thirds full, seal tightly for disposal.

When you’re ready to dispose of the container, you can mail it in to a disposal service or take it to a drop-off disposal program. In some states, like New York, hospitals and nursing homes may be required by law to serve as a public drop-off point for sharps. Some pharmacies and other healthcare providers may act as voluntary drop-off locations, while some cities collect sharps at a household hazardous waste collection point. If you are unable to mail in or drop off your container, put it out for collection in the trash once it has been labeled and sealed as described above.

SOURCES
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
BD Diabetes Learning Center: Household Sharps Disposal Guidelines by State
BD Diabetes Learning Center: Products for Home Disposal

How do you safely dispose of your sharps? Share what options are available in your city, in the comments below.

Share with Your Friends & Family
  • Melissa W. 1 year ago
    I don't have to use anything like this
  • Faith S. 2 years ago
    When I was a personal care assistant, one of my patients hadn't received his hazard sharp container, so I made him one using an old Tide container. Then I gave it to the nurse that came to see him.
  • A B. 3 years ago
    Mine are in a sharps container
  • Samuel G. 3 years ago
    mine are in a plastic container,and marked
  • jennifer c. 3 years ago
    How about insulin vials and pens? We also have insulin pump cartridges, tubes and infusion sites that the needle can be removed from. If they are plastic with no needle can they be recycled?
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