Medical sharps are a biohazardous waste resulting from self-administering injectable medication, conducting a blood test, or managing a medical condition. Although sharps cannot be recycled, it is important to understand how to handle and dispose of this medical waste safely.
Medical sharps include:
- Lancets or “fingersticks”
- Auto-injectors for drugs such as epinephrine pens (EpiPens)
- Insulin auto-injectors
Locations and programs that accept used medical sharps for disposal also commonly accept related medical biohazardous waste items that are not actually sharp — such as syringes and tubes — for safe disposal.
Medical Sharps Safe Storage and Disposal Tips
Never throw away or flush medical sharps; they can injure and infect people and wildlife.
Start by storing your used sharps safely. Drug distributors sometimes provide FDA-approved red sharps disposal boxes with lids to patients who need to administer injectable drugs at home. You can also purchase one online. This storage method is the best practice in hospitals and at home.
When red boxes are not available or provided, patients are encouraged to use a heavy plastic bottle, such as a bleach or laundry soap bottle, to store used sharps. The container should be leak-resistant, remain upright during use, and have a tight-fitting, puncture-resistant lid. Do not use soft-drink or water bottles, they are not strong enough to prevent punctures.
When your sharps container is three-quarters full, put on the cap, seal it closed with duct tape, and write on the side, “DO NOT RECYCLE: SHARPS.”
For disposal, take your sealed and labeled sharps container to a designated collection site. Hospitals, health departments, police departments, fire stations, and pharmacies are common locations that provide used sharps collection. Search for sites near you at the Safe Needle Disposal website or check Earth911 Recycling Search.
If no local collection site is available, municipal household hazardous waste facilities and a variety of mail-back programs accept this type of waste. Many pharmaceutical companies offer mail-back programs to patients who use their medicines, often at no additional cost. For a partial list of companies that charge a fee for disposing of used sharps, see the Frequent Medical Sharps Recycling Questions below.
Another option is to destroy needles at home. You can purchase devices that sever, burn, or melt needles, rendering them safe for disposal. The SANND mini from Red Hawk Medical products is one device that melts needles and there are many needle clippers on the market.
Why Properly Dispose of Medical Sharps?
Medical waste of all kinds is hazardous but sharps pose special problems:
- Sharps often contain both blood and drugs and are considered medical waste and household hazardous waste.
- Any contamination from the patient carries potential infection risk. Allowing blood, tissue, and the devices that come into contact with them into nature can result in polluted water and soil. If you aren’t worried about animals being infected or injured by used sharps, think about innocent people finding them and being injured.
- Improper disposal of sharps can pose potential health risks to the public and waste workers. For example, waste workers may be exposed to potential needle stick injuries and potential infection when sharps containers break open inside garbage bags or needles are mistakenly sent to a recycling center. To be safe, never send medical sharps containers to a recycling or garbage sorting facility.
Frequent Medical Sharps Recycling Questions
Can I recycle home-generated medical sharps in my curbside recycling bin?
No. You cannot recycle any medical sharps in curbside bins.
Is it against the law to throw away medical sharps?
State legislative efforts to regulate the disposal of medical sharps began in 1998 in California. All states but Georgia, Nevada, and Wisconsin have published guidelines for disposal. It is illegal to throw out uncontainerized sharps in all other states. You can check the local laws in your state at SafeNeedleDisposal.org.
Can I flush my sharps down the toilet?
No, never flush your sharps. Sharps must be disposed of at a designated collection site or mail-back location.
Where can I find mail-back programs for medical sharps?
Many pharmaceutical companies offer mail-back programs to patients who use their medicines, often at no additional cost. Other companies charge a fee that includes the cost of the FDA-approved sharps container and disposal fees:
- Mail Your Sharps: http://www.mailyoursharps.com/sharps/mail-back-sharps-disposal
- Think Green From Home: https://www.thinkgreenfromhome.com/SyringesAndLancets.cfm
- Republic Services Sharps Disposal: http://www.republicsharps.com/
- Heritage LifeCycle: https://store.heritage-enviro.com/c-28-sharps-recovery-systems.aspx
To find a local used sharps disposal option, enter your ZIP code in the search tool on https://safeneedledisposal.org/. You can also check Earth911 Recycling Search for nearby locations and mail-in programs.
Are razor blades considered home-generated sharps?
Razor blades are not considered sharps as they are not usually used to administer medication and so are not contaminated in the same way. However, razor blades do pose a safety risk for waste disposal workers. The sharp end of straight razor blades should be taped with masking or duct tape and disposed of in the trash. Also, some older homes have a slit in their medicine cabinet to dispose of blades between wall studs.
Sharps collection programs do not accept razor blades.
- Safe Needle Disposal: Provides comprehensive information to help people learn how to safely dispose of used sharps.
- Safely Using Sharps (Needles and Syringes) at Home, at Work, and on Travel: Get the official instructions from the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
- SafeNeedleDisposal.org: Find local sharps disposal options, mail-back programs, and additional guidance for safe sharps disposal.
- 10 Things You Can Recycle Through the Mail: Home generated medical sharps and nine more waste items that you can recycle through the mail.
- What’s Banned in Landfills: A State-by-State Guide: General medical waste is banned in most states — see what else is.