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MADISON – A new series of publications from the Department of Natural Resources is available to help the public properly dispose of medical sharps.
Medical sharps such as needles, syringes and lancets pose an injury risk for anyone who comes into contact with them.
“The DNR publications provide helpful tips for people to safely and properly dispose of medical sharps,” said Barb Bickford, Medical Waste Coordinator. “Proper disposal will help protect public health and keep sharps out of our environment.”
The publications are available in English, Hmong and Spanish by searching the DNR website dnr.wi.gov for “medical sharps” and clicking on the tab for “Correct Disposal” or by searching the online Waste and Materials Management Program’s publications list for “medical waste.”
Safe disposal saves money and lowers injury risk
According to the Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal, about nine million syringe users nationwide annually administer at least three billion injections outside of health care facilities.
To reduce public health risks, Wisconsin rules require all residents to manage sharps safely. It is illegal to put sharps in the trash or with recyclables. Sharps must be packaged safely and treated either at a licensed medical waste incinerator or by methods that render the sharps non-infectious, broken and unable to be reused.
However, medical sharps are often found in household garbage and recyclables or improperly flushed down the toilet. “When these needles end up in the solid waste stream, they can injure waste haulers, landfill operators and recycling workers,” said Bickford. “When they’re flushed down toilets, they may cause problems in plumbing and wastewater treatment plants, or may end up on our beaches.”
Bickford noted that needlestick injuries are one of the most common workers’ compensation injuries in Wisconsin’s waste collection industry. Needlestick injuries require costly testing, may cause emotional stress and increase the risk of exposure to infectious diseases such as hepatitis B.
Some of the tips mentioned in the publications include:
• take your sharps to a registered sharps collection station (see the DNR website for a list of stations);
• never put needles and other sharp medical items in the trash, recycling or medication collection drop boxes;
• reduce the amount of sharps you have to dispose of by clipping the needles off the syringe. The needle-less syringe can go in the household trash;
• buy an inexpensive needle destruction device. The device must both disinfect and break the needle so it can no longer be reused; and
• if there is not a collection location near you, click on the “correct disposal” tab of the Managing household medical sharps page of the DNR website.