There’s a lot of misinformation about how to dispose of household sharps, the medical devices with sharp points or edges that puncture or cut skin, such as needles, lancets, syringes, auto injectors, infusion sets, and connection needle sets.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) 8 million Americans use more than 3 billion sharps, including needles, syringes, and lancets, every year to manage their medical conditions outside of healthcare settings. Accidental needle sticks are one of the biggest risks of not properly disposing of sharps. Adults, children, and pets are all at risk of needle-stick injuries from sharps that have not been improperly disposed.
Consumers need convenient and safe disposal options. That’s why a new website — SafetyIsThePoint.org — launched. It’s part of a public education campaign led by a group of biopharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers — including Biogen, Dexcom, Eli Lilly and Company, embecta, and Roche — to educate consumers.
“People want to do the right thing but they don’t know what the right thing is,” says Bruce Taylor, senior director of government affairs, access and policy at Dexcom and a member of the educational effort.
Easy as 1-2-3
People use sharps to help manage their respective medical conditions — including diabetes, cancer, allergies, infertility, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, migraines, and more. They are commonly used outside of medical settings, such as at home, work, and when traveling, which means it’s important for consumers to learn their disposal options.
Taylor has had diabetes for 43 years and says he’s never had a healthcare provider talk to him about safe sharps disposal. As part of the educational effort, the companies surveyed consumers and found many people shared Taylor’s lack of information about safe sharps disposal.
“We went out and did focus groups in different areas across the country, laid out the issue and people said, ‘nobody’s ever told me what to do, how to do it, or where to do it,’” says Taylor.
While consumers can buy an FDA-cleared household sharps container from a pharmacy or medical supply company to dispose of their used household sharps, there’s an even easier option for most consumers. They can simply place their used household sharps in a strong, plastic container like an empty laundry detergent or bleach bottle. The container must have a tight fitting, be leak-resistant, puncture-resistant lid, and remain upright during use.
When that container is 75% full, consumers are advised to seal it tightly with duct table, label it “Do Not Recycle,” and then place the container in the household trash. In most states, sharps disposal really is as easy as those three steps.
Taylor, who lives in Indiana, puts his pen needles in a heavy laundry soap container. “When it gets full, I put the lid back on it, put duct tape on it, label it ‘bio,’ and I dispose of it in my household trash, not in recycling,” he says.
Consumers can also enter their ZIP Code in the website to learn their local rules and/or disposal sites. While most doctor’s offices and healthcare facilities don’t collect used household sharps containers, some medical device and pharmaceutical companies offer free mail-back programs for specific products that use sharps. Consumers who use household sharps are advised to check the company’s website for disposal information.
All but four states — California, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Massachusetts — allow disposal of used sharps in the household trash. Consumers in those states should visit SafetyIsThePoint.org, where a map on the website tells consumers where they can find household sharps drop off locations in their area.
Sharps should never be put in recycling, flushed down the toilet, or placed loosely in the trash.
Consumers are empowered with this sharp disposal information, telling Taylor and his team: “’You’ve given us a solution to an unmet need.’”