Advise Your Patients About Safe Disposal of Sharps

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 9 million people in the U.S. use sharps — needles, syringes and lancets — at home. This equates to more than 3 billion disposable needles and syringes and 900 million lancets each year.  Often times sharps used at home are discarded in the waste disposal or toilets. Such inappropriate disposal of sharps at home, however, is putting people, including waste-disposal workers, housekeepers, family members and children, at risk of injury and serious infections. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that:

  • loose sharps should never be thrown away in household or public trash containers, toilets or recycling bins and
  • a person who is accidentally pricked by a discarded sharp is at risk of exposure to such blood-borne viruses as hepatitis and HIV.

Additionally, in response to this public threat, the FDA announced that it has launched a new website to inform consumers about safe disposal of sharps.

The FDA recommends that used sharps be immediately placed in a sharps puncture-resistant disposal container.  FDA-cleared sharps containers are generally available through pharmacies, medical supply companies, health care providers and online. These containers are made of puncture-resistant plastic with leak-resistant sides and bottom. They also have a tight fitting, puncture-resistant lid.

While FDA’s message is primary targeted at patients and caregivers at home who may not know how to properly dispose of sharps, the FDA expects health care providers to advise patients on the safe disposal of sharps. For example, the agency recommends that healthcare providers find out about the sharps disposal programs available in the area and share that information with patients. FDA also suggested placing pamphlets in the waiting area to educate patients on this issue.  Additionally, FDA suggested that providers print out and distribute for patients the FDA’s Dos and Dont’s of sharps disposal.

In 2008, the New Jersey Department of Health and Human Services published a guidance for patients who produce medical waste at home.

The New York Department of Health’s guidance on safe disposal of sharps can be found here.