How to Dispose of Needles

Safe disposal of needles is essential because the slightest mistake could lead to injuries, infections, and sometimes, death. Coming up with ways to dispose of needles is not as easy as you might think.

Though this article will not teach you how to find a needle in a haystack of needles, you will learn the best ways to dispose of needles safely and the dangers of not disposing of needles properly. But first, let us see why you should dispose of needles safely.

Why Should You Dispose of Needles Safely?

Improper disposal of needles – used or not – is dangerous and can harm people and pets. The sharp end of needles can cause injuries, but that is not even its most significant harm. Ignoring proper needle disposal practices will increase the chances of contracting blood-borne diseases and infections.

Some common infections that result from improper disposal of needles are Hepatitis B (HBV), Hepatitis C (HCV), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), etc. Therefore, it is wrong to dispose of needles in household garbage bins, public trash cans, and recycle bins or flush them down the toilet.

Therefore, when you dispose of needles correctly, you are preventing yourself, your family,  and other people from harm and environmental hazards. 

How To Dispose Of Used Needles

Used needles are Hazardous Household Wastes (HHW), and unlike many other household wastes, they are neither reusable nor recyclable – hence, the need to safely dispose of them. Disposing of used needles begins with taking adequate safety precautions after using them, as you will see below.

Safety Precautions To Take Before Disposing Of Used Needles

The following precautions are necessary and will help you safely dispose of used needles.

Place Used Needles In A Sharps Container

The first thing to ensure while thinking of disposing of a used needle is having a sharps disposal container in your home. A sharps container is usually a hard plastic bin for safely disposing of sharp medical instruments. They are available in pharmacies, medical supply companies, health care providers, and online stores like Amazon.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends placing needles, syringes, lancets, and other sharp items in the sharps container immediately after use. The containers help to effectively dispose of needles without inflicting injuries on people that have contact with it during the disposal process.

You may also use alternative sharps container disposal if you do not have an FDA-cleared container. You can use a heavy-duty household container that is leak-resistant and has a tight-fitting.

Some Heavy-duty plastic household containers you can use are empty plastic laundry detergent, windshield wiper fluid, cat litter, or cleaned bleach containers. New heavy-duty paint or chemical buckets with a secure lid and metal gas or diesel fuel containers with tight caps are also helpful for disposing of sharps.

Keep Sharp Containers From Children’s Reach

Having a sharps container at home is not enough to keep your family safe; you should also keep it away from the reach of children and pets to ensure their safety.

Avoid Overfilling Sharps Disposal Containers

Safety disposal is the goal of keeping needles and sharps in a sharps container, and overfilling the containers will make it unachievable. When you overfill a sharps container, you increase the chance of being poked by its contents.

It is advisable to get a replacement for your sharps container as soon as it is about three-quarters full. You should also begin to find a way to get rid of the container then.

Where To Dispose Of Used Needles

When your sharps disposal container is complete, you must dispose of it safely according to your community guidelines. There are different safety guidelines on the safe disposal of sharps containers, depending on your location. You can check out the guidelines for your local area at Safe Needle Disposal.

However, according to most community guidelines, some of the methods to safely dispose of needles are given below.

Supervised Collection Sites

Most community guidelines recommend disposing of your sharps disposal container at a supervised collection site. Although not every collection site takes sharp containers, those listed in your community guidelines will do as they have drop boxes where you can drop off sharps disposal containers.

Some collection sites that can help you dispose of used needles are doctor’s offices, hospitals, health departments, pharmacies, police, and fire stations. Some of these sites may charge you some to dispose of your container, while others offer a free service.

 Participate in Needle and Syringe Programs (SEP)

One of the safe ways to dispose of needles is to participate in a Needle and Syringe Program (NSP) or a Needle Exchange Program (NEP). These programs give you access to no new sterilized needles while disposing of used ones.

One of the places to exchange your used needles for a new one is the United States Syringe Exchange Programs, or you can also browse the internet for other options for Needle Exchange Programs.

Hazardous Household Wastes Collection Sites

Since needles are hazardous household wastes, you can drop off sharps disposal containers that contain them at hazardous household waste collection sites close to you. Hazardous household waste collectors, as their name implies, are professionals in collecting household wastes that are hazardous to the life and properties of man.

Most of these collection sites offer free services and operate at a given time – once a month, on weekends, or at other specific times. They also have site rules that help guide against casualties. Some of the special rules for some sites are as follows:

  • You are not allowed to leave your vehicle. Staff members will assist you with your sharps container. 
  • There are limits to certain types of waste. 
  • Hazardous household waste collection sites do not operate on public holidays.

Please note that the rules are not limited to the above and may not be the same at various collection sites.

If you cannot locate a hazardous household waste collection site close to you, RCRAInfo Web is a platform that will help you.

Mail-Back Programs

Mail-Back Programs are one of the best ways to dispose of needles safely. Many pharmaceutical companies organize these programs to help patients manage and dispose of sharp wastes like needles. 

Participating in these programs requires you to mail your FDA-cleared sharps disposal container to a collection site. The program may be free and may attract a fee that depends on the size of your sharps disposal container. The free or paid Mail-Back program depends on the organizers, and making inquiries to confirm your eligibility is advisable.

Community Waste Pick-Up Services

Patronizing community waste pick-up services is another way to dispose of used needles. Some communities have special waste pick-up services where trained personnel assist in safely disposing of sharps disposal containers. It can be an advantage if you live in such a community.

Community waste pick-up services are not usually accessible and come at a cost, and there may be special requirements for the type of sharps disposal containers they collect. Some waste pick-up services operate full-time, and you can call them to request pick-ups, while others operate based on a schedule – schedules can be weekly or monthly pick-ups. You can also check our post on disposing of sharps containers.

How To Dispose Of Unused Needles

Disposing of unused needles is slightly different from disposing of used ones, although they are also dangerous and may inflict injuries. Since the needles are new and unused, one way to safely dispose of them is to donate them.

Now you are wondering how? 

You can donate unused needles in many ways since they are contamination-free. But first, you must ensure they are new, sealed, and unused. Although, it is not the same as disposing of knives as gifts.

Once you ensure your needles are new, you can donate them to doctor’s offices, hospitals, pharmacies, and other medical health care centers.

You can donate new needles to organizations like HIV Alliance, Transponder, or Whitebird. But, the needles must be with a seal whether you donate them to medical centers or non-profit organizations. Once the seal of a needle is cut, the best option is to use the methods of disposing of used needles. You can also dispose of sealed needles the same way if you do not have access to a medical health center or a non-profit organization that can take it.

Requirements For Sharps Containers Alternatives

Sharps disposal containers are essential in safely disposing of needles; you cannot use every available household container. They must meet up with some FDA standards.

If you do not have an FDA-approved sharps disposal container, here are the FDA guidelines for selecting an alternative:

Sharps disposal containers should be made of heavy-duty plastic, thick enough to withstand sharp points of needles.

  • Sharps disposal containers should have a tight-fitting, puncture-resistant lid to ensure needles can not come out of them when you move them.
  • Sharps disposal containers should be upright and balanced when they are in use.
  • Label Sharps disposal containers appropriately for other people to know they contain hazardous household wastes.
  • Sharps disposal containers should be leak-resistant. 

Do’s And Don’ts of Disposing of Needles

  • DO place used needles in sharps disposal containers to minimize the risk of cuts or punctures.
  • DO use sharps disposal containers cleared by the FDA.
  • DO ensure any household container used for sharps disposal meets the basic requirements of a suitable container.
  • DO carry a portable sharps disposal container whenever you travel.
  • DO follow your community guidelines for getting rid of sharps disposal containers.
  • DO keep sharps disposal containers out of reach of children and pets.
  • DO seal sharps disposal containers when disposing of them, labeling them properly to warn other people of their contents.
  • DO ask the manufacturer of your drug products used with needles if they provide sharps disposal containers.
  • DO report problems associated with sharps disposal containers.
  • DON’T throw loose needles along with regular trash in the garbage bin. 
  • DON’T flush needles down the toilet.
  • DON’T put needles in the recycling bin as they are not recyclable.
  • DON’T try to remove, bend, or break needles used by another person. Doing this can lead to injuries that cause infections.
  • DON’T attempt to remove needles without a needle clipper because the needle could fall, fly off, or get lost. They may end up injuring you or other people.

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