Environmental Sticking Point – Used Needle and Syringe Disposal

This guest post is the second of two guest posts from David P. Tusa, CEO and President of Sharps Compliance Corp. (Nasdaq: SMED), a leading full-service provider of cost-effective management solutions for medical waste and unused dispensed medications generated outside the healthcare facility setting.

As a country, we regulate the disposal of car batteries, oil and tires but not more dangerous, used needles and syringes, which if stuck could cause life-threatening illnesses. Approximately ten million Americans self-inject at home to treat diabetes, allergies, HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, MS and other medical conditions. This creates some three billion syringes per year that are discarded in non-healthcare settings. They must be disposed of properly to avoid needlestick hazards from disease-causing pathogens carried on used needles and syringes that could cause exposure to HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and syphilis, among other diseases.

There is no national standard on sharps medical waste disposal by self-injectors. Seven states have laws or regulations restricting consumer disposal of sharps: California, for example, specifically prohibits the disposal of home-generated sharps into the solid waste, recycling, green waste, or business waste streams. In 2009, the state passed a new law requiring pharmaceutical manufacturers by July 1, 2010 to offer patients safe needle collection and disposal programs, many of which incorporate disposal by mail and community collection as options (visit CalRecycle for sharps disposal plans of 30 major companies).

Until December of 2004, EPA guidelines advised home-injectors to dispose of the used syringes in the household trash; this changed when updated EPA guidance recommended the proper disposal of used syringes including disposal by mail options. Government-approved disposal by mail systems include a medical waste container, postage prepaid return shipping box with barcode, protective liner, detailed instructions, and a simplified manifest tracking form. When the container is full, it is placed in the prepaid postage return box and delivered via the U.S. Postal Service to a permitted treatment facility for documentation and destruction of each package and its contents. Proof of destruction is available through an online manifest tracking program.

An example of disposal-by-mail’s effectiveness can be seen in the experience of Cathedral City, California. Cathedral City became the first city in the nation to offer a free and confidential disposal by mail program to help residents safely dispose of used hypodermic needles, syringes and lancets. The program is now in its fifth year, and an estimated 1,400 participating Cathedral City residents who legally self-administer injections have prevented more than 480,000 used needles and syringes from potentially unsafe disposal in local landfills. This and other mail-back and collection programs show how to keep used syringes out of the waste management stream, effectively and without costly new legal requirements.

Photo Credit: -sel via flickr under a CC license

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