Just throw it away?

Picture of a BD brand Sharps containerIt has taken me many years, but it finally happened.  I completely filled up my home sharps container with insulin pump cartridge fill needles.  Now what the heck do I do with it?

It has honestly been SO LONG since I’ve had to deal with disposing of a sharps container that I don’t remember what I have done in the past.  I don’t mean way back when I would break the needle off the syringe, stuff it into the plunger chamber with the plunger, then drop the syringe into an old milk jug or laundry detergent bottle (I think mom used to then take those to the hospital where she worked?).  I mean the last time I filled up an actual sharps container.

These insulin pump cartridge fill needles are so small that it has, very literally, taken a number of years to fill up the container.  It’s much different than the space taken up by syringes, pen needles, or infusion set needles.  They (the fill needles) are small and skinny, so you can really get a whole bunch of them in there before it fills up.

Trying to be a responsible needle user, I wanted to make sure I was disposing of this thing properly.  I called the company that handles my residential trash. I got the run-around for a bit and finally ended up at the toll-free number for a company that does mail return, but only for their brand of container.  I explained that I did not have their brand, and was directed to my local public health department.

I placed a few calls and left a few messages trying to get to the right people for the city I live in.  It was terribly hard and frustrating and resulted in nobody calling me back.  I kept thinking that “they” (whoever that is) sure are making it hard to properly dispose of these, and that if it was too much more work I would run out of responsible motivation and just toss the damn thing in the garbage!

With some more legwork and phone calls and waiting, I finally got a call back from someone.  Do you know what she said?

Just throw it in the garbage.

Can you believe that?!  Ha!!

Apparently these home sharps containers are designed such that they are completely safe to all parties involved to just go into your regular residential trash container.  They are sealed, puncture “resistant” , and marked appropriately so that the garbage handlers will know what to do with it and get it to an incinerator.

I really thought it would be more involved than that.  And looking at the container again, the marking and description is literally just a sticker – that can’t possibly hold up when mixed up with all sorts of household trash…

I don’t know – something just does not seem right with that answer.

Anyone out there know what is right?  How do you deal with your used sharps?

I do know that it has been very difficult for me to get information on what to do — and if it is this hard to do the right thing, many people will do the wrong thing.

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14 thoughts on “Just throw it away?

  1. Hi Andy,
    I’m not any sort of expert or official safety officer, but I just keep my sharps container in my “diabetes drawer”, which is where I usually change my infusion sets and fill my pump cartridges. That’s where I generate most of my sharps waste.
    My kids are old enough to obey my instructions to stay out of that drawer.
    Like everything else with diabetes, your mileage may vary.
    Anyone else have thoughts on this?

  2. I take mine to the county health department. They have a drop box outside for sharps disposal, and if during regular business hours, you can drop it off inside.

  3. In Grand Forks, ND, the Altru Health System (hospital/clinic) has a free community sharps drop. They incinerate whatever gets dropped, no questions asked, no charges billed.
    Cheers, Mike

  4. I just leave mine at the pharmacy where I buy my syringes; that’s also where I pick up new containers! Not sure how they deal with it, but I assume it goes to be properly incinerated somewhere and not just thrown out, otherwise what’s the point?

  5. When we moved into our house, I called the borough office, and they told me a laundry detergent bottle or coffee can was a perfectly acceptable container, and that I could just throw it in with the regular trash. If there were a more proper or legal method, I figure they would make a law or something so if they said it was OK, then I’m cool with it. I like the shape of a coffee can more than a detergent bottle, but we don’t drink coffee, so I make Jason steal them from work. I’ve been pumping for 4 1/2 years and I’ve filled 1 3/4 cans.

  6. Interestingly, I’ve been dealing with a similar issue recently!
    My local council (who deal with all the domestic refuse collection) used to collect sharps containers. You called them when you had a full one and they sent someone round to get it. That’s what I pay “council tax” for! But recently, they claimed they no longer get the money to do it. (What? my council tax bill hasn’t gone down any!)
    I’ve made a lot of phone calls and enquiries and got no where. Doctors’ offices and most pharmacies aren’t licensed to take them, and we can’t take them in to a hospital. It seems there is just no one prepared to deal with them. I could dispose of them through work, as we obviously dispose of a lot of sharps, but we have a contract for a particular type of sharps container and I’d have to pay a fortune to get them to take mine as well.
    Several people have recommended to me that I just throw them in the regular trash, but like you, I don’t feel entirely comfortable with that. I know the container is robust and properly sealed so that the chances of anyone being injured by my sharps are minimal. I also know that I’m not infected with anything that I could pass on. But if someone did accidentally come in to contact with one of my needles, they wouldn’t know that. They’d face an agonising wait to see if they’d contracted a nasty infection. I’ve been through the wait after occupational needlestick injury, and it isn’t fun.
    Eventually, however, I found a solution. One of my local pharmacies participates in a needle exchange scheme for drug addicts. It’s NHS funded (i.e. government funded and so paid for out of my taxes!) Drug addicts can drop their drug paraphernalia, including sharps, into a large secure bin and then pick up free syringes from the counter.
    If the drug addicts can get rid of their syringes so easily, why can’t I? I figured I should be able to, so I dropped off a full sharps container into the needle exchange in last week. I can’t get free syringes without going to a doctor for a prescription though… go figure!

  7. We were told to use duct tape to “seal” the container then just throw it away. Never really thought about “proper” disposal….I commend you for thinking about it.

  8. O.k… honesty here…
    I take my “homes” sharp container and bring it to school with me. Then I pour it into the sharps container that is here. The school nurse collects the container at the end of the school year, so I figure I might as well load it up. I put lancets, quick set needles, and cartridge needles. I’m not sure what the nurse does with it. I guess I assume it goes to some medical waste place. 🙂

  9. Try the following 2 links for more information on safe sharps disposal:
    Handle With Care: How To Throw Out Used Insulin Syringes and Lancets
    A colorful booklet for young people and their families from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about disposal of sharps.
    Safe Needle Disposal
    Established in August 2002, the Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal is a collaboration of businesses, community groups, non-profit organizations and government that promotes public awareness and solutions for safe disposal of needles, syringes, and other sharps in the community.