If you regularly use hypodermic needles to inject insulin or other life-saving medication, you may not put much thought into what happens to your needles once they've been used. However, federal and state laws govern the disposal of these needles (or "sharps"), and the cost of adhering to disposal safety guidelines can add up. What are the most inexpensive medical waste services? Read on to learn more about why sharps disposal is treated differently from other medical waste disposal, as well as a few tips you can use to keep your sharps disposal cost down.
Why must sharps be disposed of through a separate method than other types of medical waste?
For many years, sharps were permitted to be thrown away with your regular trash. However, when medical waste -- including needles harboring potentially dangerous pathogens -- began to wash up on family beaches, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to act. Now, the disposal of these needles is strictly regulated to ensure no one handling trash inadvertently comes into contact with the business end of a needle, as well as to make sure these needles aren't able to hurt anyone (or anything) else after they've been trucked off to a landfill or trash incineration facility.
How can you inexpensively dispose of your sharps?
Federal laws require sharps to be "neutralized" upon their disposal so the sharp needle poses no danger. This can be accomplished by one of several EPA-approved methods, listed below in order from most to least expensive.
- Mail-back disposal box
One of the most convenient ways to dispose of your used needles is to simply have a sealed, hard-sided sharps container in your home. When this container has been filled, you should be able to call a telephone number on the side and arrange for it to be picked up by a certified disposal company, who will then send you a fresh container. Although this is a more expensive alternative than some others, the convenience of this method is hard to beat.
- Individual disposal box provided to community recycling
A similar but slightly less expensive way to dispose of used sharps is to take your home sharps container to a central recycling facility in your community. Many area recycling services have specific days devoted to sharps disposal, and by planning around these events, you may be able to have your hard-sided container disposed of at a lower cost than mailing it back to the recycling facility. In most cases, you'll be able to pick up a new sharps container at the recycling site upon the relinquishment of your old container.
You may also want to contact your doctor's office to determine whether you're able to recycle your sharps container there. Because most medical facilities already have their own in-house sharps recycling programs, some are willing to extend this service to patients who use sharps to inject legally-prescribed or otherwise necessary medications.
- At-home destruction devices
If your needles are destroyed -- melted, cut, or otherwise rendered incapable of harming anyone -- they can be placed in the trash with other waste. However, you'll want to invest in a device specifically designed to destroy sharps to ensure you're in compliance with all state and federal medical waste disposal regulations.
The most common destruction devices generally involve placing the needle tip into a sealed hole, where it is snapped off. Heat or an electrical current will then melt the surrounding plastic of the syringe so that it covers any remaining sharp parts. Some of these devices are portable, which can be especially handy when you're faced with the prospect of injecting insulin or other drugs while away from home.
Once you've purchased your at-home destruction device, you should have relatively few ongoing costs associated with needle disposal.