Sharps Waste

Medical Waste Disposal Services

The medical term “Sharps” or “Sharps waste” is any type of
device with sharp points or edges that can puncture, lacerate,
or cut the skin.

Sharps waste is classified by the FDA as biohazardous waste and care must be handled appropriately.  Some of the most common medical devices considered sharps waste are hypodermic needles, disposable scalpels and blades, contaminated glass, certain plastics, and dental wire.

Here is a more comprehensive list of common sharps along with a brief definition:

  • Hypodermic needles – hollow needles used to inject medications under the skin.
  • Syringes – devices typically fitted with a hypodermic needle, used to withdraw fluids or to inject medication into the body.
  • Auto Injectors – pre-filled syringes containing fluid medication designed to be self-injected into the body. Auto Injectors are commonly used for epinephrine and insulin.
  • Lancets – small devices with a short, two-edged blade used to get drops of blood for testing. Lancets are commonly used by diabetics to monitor blood glucose levels.
  • Infusion sets – medical tubing systems with a needle, like an IV bag or an insulin pump, that are used to deliver drugs intravenously into the body.
  • Connection needles/sets – needles that are connected to tubes which are used to transfer fluids in and out of the body. 

Additionally, anything attached to a sharps device such as a syringe attached to a needle or tubing connected to injection devices, is also considered sharps waste.

Blades or any items used for cutting in a medical environment are considered Sharps (examples: scissors, knives, razors, scalpels) even if they have not been contaminated with biohazardous material. While glass and sharp plastic are considered sharps waste, their handling methods can vary.

Items made of glass which have been contaminated with a biohazardous material should be handled with the same care as needles and blades, even if unbroken. If glass is contaminated even if it doesn’t have a sharp edge or point, it is still often treated as a sharp, because it can break during the disposal process. Contaminated plastic items which are not sharp can be disposed of in a biohazardous waste receptacle instead of a sharps container.

Today sharps are used in numerous environments outside of medical settings such as your home or while traveling to manage the medical conditions of people or their pets, including allergies, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, blood clotting disorders, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, infertility, migraines,  and psoriasis.

Importance of Safe Sharps Disposal

Potential injuries from sharps waste can pose a serious public health concern because  used sharps may contain biohazardous material. The possibility exists for sharps waste to spread blood-borne diseases if contaminated sharps penetrate the skin. The spread of pathogens of blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (HCV), and HIV are especially high risk if Sharps waste is not properly disposed. Many health care professionals run the risk of exposure to themselves or transmission of these diseases to others when handling sharps waste. Due to the sizable volume handled by health care professionals the chances of a potential injury from sharps waste is greatly increased.

The general public can likewise be at risk of injury from sharps waste when hypodermic needles are improperly disposed by drug users.  Used needles and other sharps are dangerous to people and pets if not disposed of safely because they can injure people and spread infections that cause serious health conditions.

Proper sharps disposal is important whether you are at home, at work, at school, traveling, or in  public places such as retails stores, hotels, parks, and restaurants.

Loose needles and other Sharps (those that are not placed in a sharps disposal container) should never be placed in regular trash cans or recycling bins, and they should never be flushed down the toilet. Sharps disposed of in this manner put trash collectors, sewage workers, janitors, housekeepers, household members, and children at risk of being harmed.

Pet owners who give medicine to their pets using needles should practice the same sharps disposal guidelines used for humans.

How to Dispose of Sharps

Used Sharps should be placed immediately in an appropriate sharps disposal container.  FDA approved sharps containers are generally available through pharmacies, medical supply companies, health care providers and online. These containers have leak resistant bottoms and sides and are made of puncture-resistant plastic with a tight fitting, puncture-resistant lid.

In the United States, sharps containers are usually red and marked with the universal biohazard symbol for ease of recognition. Sharps are placed into the container until it reaches a certain height, typically around three-quarters or 75%  full.  At that point the container lid is locked and the entire container is packaged as regulated medical waste.

Sharps containers may be single use, in which case they are disposed of along with the waste they contain, or reusable, in which case they are robotically emptied and sterilized before being returned for re-use. Many medical facilities are required by federal regulations to hire the services of a company like Medical Waste of America that specializes in transporting and properly disposing of sharps and other biohazards waste.

What is final step in sharps waste disposal?

Extreme caution must be used in the management, transport and disposal of sharps waste. The goal of  sharps waste management is to safely handle all materials until they can be properly treated and landfilled. That is why companies like Medical Waste of America train their personnel in DOT regulations and OSHA Best Practices.  All medical waste must be packaged and transported per these guidelines.  Additionally, all containers must be tracked from the generator to the landfill to ensure proper disposal and accountability.

Treatment methods vary due to State regulations, however the two most common methods are either sterilization or incineration after being transported using an approved container to an appropriate facility.  Using sterilization, Sharps waste is treated in a large autoclave with high temperature steam to thoroughly kill all dangerous microorganisms.  Incineration treatment is a method of controlled burning of medical waste in a dedicated incinerator that is regulated and monitored by federal and state organizations.  This method of disposal is usually reserved for Trace Chemo, pathological wastes, and pharmaceutical wastes

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