February 18, 2014

Proper Disposal of Sharps

How do you dispose of your syringes, pen needles, and other sharps equipment? The time is coming when you may be forced to pay more for this disposal. Tom Erickson, CEO, UltiMed, a manufacturer of insulin syringes and pen needles for the Canadian and U.S. markets wrote an article laying out his observations about what is happening in both countries on regulations for sharps disposal. He thinks that pharmacists will be affected by the changes.

Surveys indicate that less than 5 percent of the more than 3 million sharps devices sold in the United States in a year are disposed in some type of closed container. The rest ends up unprotected in household trash. The influential group promoting sharps disposal regulations is the companies that handle household trash. Their workers are being accidentally stuck with the used needles and each needle stick creates more than $3,000 in testing and sick leave expenses for each employee and some cause serious illness.

Yes, and the frequency of needle-stick injuries is going up. As more waste disposal companies expand into sorting lines to recycle and reduce landfill loads, the injuries are going up. The workers are wearing protective gloves, but this doesn't prevent all needle-stick injuries. This is causing waste companies to lobby heavily to remove sharps devices from the household waste stream.

Pressure is now coming from another direction. The global environmental movement has been actively promoting the safe disposal of all hazardous products. An ever growing number of countries is enacting rules regulating the proper disposal of waste, including batteries, electronics, tires, paint, and pharmaceuticals. The safe disposal of medical sharps devices, such as syringes, and pen needles, is part of the objective of the movement.

Tom Erickson says, “There are two generally accepted ways to transport used needles to a collection point:

1. The user returns the needles in an approved sharps container to an authorized collection point (for example, a pharmacy or hospital).
  1. The user mails the needles to the collection point, called "mail-back." Due to postal regulations and much higher expense, the mail-back option is rarely used.”

The United States currently has no national laws about the safe disposal of sharps waste. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published new guidelines for the disposal of home-generated sharps waste. To encourage sharps waste removal from normal household waste, the EPA recommends six disposal options, and the use of sharps containers is mandatory in all six.

Many states and cities are attempting to adapt to the EPA guidelines, but with little success. Some states now are requiring the storage and transport of used syringes and pen needles in sharps containers. California tried, but they omitted two critical components – free sharps containers and convenient authorized collection points. Two successful city programs are Sioux Falls, SD, and San Luis Obispo, CA. They included the two afore mentioned components.

In Canada, some pharmacies pay for disposal of home use sharps. When other pharmacies realized that they were losing their valued diabetic customers to this tactic, they countered with their own programs. Now some of the provinces in Canada are considering legislation to move the cost from pharmacies to sharps manufacturers.

Tom Erickson also says the next few years will be interesting. He says political pressure and EPA guidelines will cause nearly all 50 states to enact home-use sharps collection legislation. He comments that it is easy to predict the most controversial issue in this new legislation – who is going to pay the bill?

There are three alternatives:
  1. The Canadian model, where pharmacies pay the cost.
  2. The Sioux Falls and San Luis Obispo models, where government pays.
  3. The EPR model, where the sharps manufacturers pay for the safe disposal of their products.

It will be interesting to see which of the three options the 50 state legislatures take.”

This should mean that those of us with diabetes and using insulin will need to watch and take action to prevent all of the cost becoming an even bigger financial burden. In the town where I live, I have the entire financial burden for taking my sharps to the collection point and paying a fee to have them properly disposed of.

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