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Don’t Be a Prick

October 15, 2007

Today is the inaugural “Blog Action Day,” formed by a group of bloggers to see what would happen if a thousands of bloggers wrote about a single issue.

This year, the topic is the environment.

Most people may not think that diabetes, or health care in general, has much to do with the environment. But I think it does.

Anyone who has had diabetes for more than, say, a day, has probably picked up on the fact that we use a lot of “stuff” to take care of our diabetes. We have test strips, we have insulin reservoirs, we have pump tubing, we have pump sets, we have juice boxes, we have lancets, we have syringes.

While most bloggers are going to write about the importance of recycling to help the environment, I want to take the time to highlight something that should never be recycled, should never be thrown out in regular trash.

Needles.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates three billion needles are disposed of outside health care settings. That is a lot of used needles to be tossed into the garbage or recycling, leaving our solid waste management workers at risk for being exposed to hepatitis, tetanus, HIV and AIDS. Even if you are otherwise healthy, syringes can still transmit germs. Syringes thrown in the trash can also be taken for illegal drug use, as well as pose harm to mischievous children, pets or wildlife.

Although it might seem like the environmentally-friendly thing to do, sending your needles out through the trash or recycling is actually one of the most harmful things you can do to our environment. When I say environment, I mean our entire community: plants, animals and people.

Proper disposal of syringes, lancets and inserters for pump sets is as follows:bdsharpcontainersm.jpg

1) Use a red sharps container (can be purchased at any local pharmacy, like Walgreens or CVS, or hospital) or a hard-plastic container that cannot be broken.

2) Do not use soft plastic, like milk jugs, or glass containers as they can be punctured or can break. Don’t use coffee cans because the plastic lids can puncture or slip off.

3) Label the container clearly in waterproof marker with the words “Contains Sharps.”

4) When the container is 3/4 full, screw the top on tightly and duct tape for extra security.

5) Take your container to a designated medical facility. Hospitals and clinics are required by most state laws to accept medical sharps from private homes.

Do not put the sharps container in the recycle bin!

The Center for Disease Control has more information about safe needle disposal. Some states allow you to throw the puncture-proof container in the trash. Other states or communities require you to dispose of the container at a medical waste facility.

Also, different communities have special recycling programs set up to help take care of medical waste. These are a few examples. Ask your recycling company, city hall or local hospital or pharmacy for suggestions on where to take your medical waste. My father used to take my sharps container to a biohazard facility in the next town over, and we would receive a new sharps container for free.

As people with diabetes, we go through thousands of different types of needles and we should be aware of how our medical waste impacts the environment. We have enough to worry about with pricking ourselves, we shouldn’t have to worry about our needles pricking someone – or something – else and how that will affect the health of our environment, both natural and man-made.

Please be educated about the proper disposal of syringes and other medical waste!

Update: Here is the direct link to look up your nearest disposal center! Thanks Scott!

Information from this blog post was taken from:

Diabetes Monitor

A Guide for the Disposal of Syringes and Other Household Sharps for the Citizens of Nassau County

Safe Syringe Disposal Guide for Home Generated Medical Waste

Safe Community Needle Disposal

Update: Thanks to Scott for commenting with these two additional resources!

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.
http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/househld/hhw/han-care.pdf

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.
http://www.safeneedledisposal.org/

Visit the official site for Blog Action Day for more information on how you can help the environment through blogging and to read more blog posts from the more than 15,000 participants.

9 Comments
  1. October 15, 2007 2:13 PM

    Allison

    This is a good point and worth raising. Thanks for posting about it.

    But the states and the sharps container manufacturers are doing a lousy job of getting the word out about what to do with these full containers.

    I’ve got two or three BIG full sharps containers at home. And I have no idea whether I can take them to a local hospital. Your links will help and I’ll read this. But maybe the sharps makers (and the folks that give us stuff that creates medical waste) can do a better job of helping us dispose of the full containers.

  2. Kim permalink
    October 15, 2007 2:46 PM

    I’m curious about getting sharps containers. Does anyone know where we can get these things without having to shell out 5 bucks for each tiny container? Are sharps containers not recycled? I would love to get a recycled container for the one I turn in, rather than having them just thrown away w/ medical waste.

  3. October 15, 2007 2:47 PM

    This is an excellent topic to discuss!

    I have almost two liquid laundry detergent containers filled with pen needles, and I really don’t know where they go. Now it seems I’m starting a collection. I was afraid to put them in the trash, but didn’t know what else to do with them.

    It’s interesting that with all the teaching the CDEs do, there is no mention about disposing of dangerous materials like needles. My goal for today, is now to find out where to take my containers. THANX!

  4. Allison permalink*
    October 15, 2007 2:59 PM

    Bernard: I completely agree! Hopefully this will start a much-needed discussion.

    Kim: Ask your doctor if they have any available, but as far as I know, you have to buy them. I know once we started turning them into the biohazard facility, we would get free replacements, but I think we bought them to start with. Keep in mind though that most sharp containers will last you a couple of months, so it’s not like this is a weekly or even monthly expense.

    Mandy: I believe those are strong enough to withstand being put in the trash, but make sure to mark it up like I explained and duct tape. Also, take it to your doctor during your next appointment. They will be able to take care of them!

  5. October 15, 2007 3:05 PM

    Here are two additions to your information on this topic:

    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.
    http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/househld/hhw/han-care.pdf

    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.
    http://www.safeneedledisposal.org/

  6. October 16, 2007 1:42 AM

    I agree with you that we should be disposing of these needles properly, but to be honest, I already feel overwhelmed enough by other parts of my diabetes care and life in general that it’s hard for me to think about spending extra time or money on this.

    I went to the safe needle disposal site scott recommended and there was no local place – only an address in texas to mail it to. That could get expensive, and I can never get to the post office before they close anyways!

  7. Allison permalink*
    October 16, 2007 9:25 AM

    Baddecisionmaker: The best advice I can give you is to just bring along your container (and honestly, I’ve had a little one last me a couple months, and a big one last me almost six months!) with you to your endo appointment. You have to go to them anyway, right? They are obligated to accept medical waste – and they’re a doctor’s office so they probably produce quite a bit of their own!🙂 Try that and hopefully it works out for you.

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