Safe sharps disposal: how to properly toss needles, syringes and lancets

Sharps, the overarching term for hypodermic needles, syringes and lancets, cannot be thrown in with the rest of the solid waste stream. And unfortunately, the various parts that make up these objects are also not recyclable. Many people don’t know exactly how to get rid of sharps and this can pose serious problems. If not disposed of properly, sharps can potentially injure others and spread disease.

FDA Guidelines

Specific guidelines for safe sharps disposal, including designated drop-off locations, vary state by state, but the FDA does offer some basic rules:

  • Immediately place used sharps in a proper sharps disposal container—never loose in the garbage. Appropriate containers should be made of heavy-duty plastic, able to close with a tight-fitting, puncture-proof lid, leak resistant, properly labeled and able to be kept upright and stable while in use.You can find FDA-cleared disposal containers through pharmacies, medical supply companies, healthcare providers and online. But if you don’t have an FDA container immediately available, a household container that fits these criteria, such as a laundry detergent container, may be used.
  • If you expect to have to dispose of sharps, carry a portable container with you at all times.
  • Keep containers out of reach of children and pets.
  • Dispose of used sharps disposal containers according to your community guidelines.

Complicating the basic rules

The Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal offers a state by state guide for disposal of sharps. Certain states have disposal sites that are free and open to the public. These sites may include medical waste facilities, such as clinics, physician offices, EMT stations and hospitals. However, if your state does not have a designated site, you CANNOT use a designated sharps container to dispose of your hazardous sharps in the trash. Many of these containers are marked as “biohazards,” so while the particular sharps you are disposing of may not be classified as biohazards, the containers do fall under that classification and must be dropped off at one of the aforementioned sites. In cases like these, it is best to use an empty, intact laundry detergent container.
Still, some states prohibit the disposal of needles in regular household waste altogether, so you must check with your state to know for sure which of these regulations applies to you.

Mailback programs

If you know you will have to regularly dispose of sharps, consider signing up with a mailback kit. These kits provide users with a sharps container and a way to dispose of it. The Stericycle Sharps Mailback Disposal Service, for example, includes a specially designed sharps container, a prepaid shipping box, pre-addressed shipping labels and a simple sharps disposal tracking form. When the container is full, users can complete the tracking form and ship the container back to Stericycle in the box provided. The kits come in a variety of sizes and the entire process is completely confidential.