The Ultimate Guide to Sharps Disposal: how to use, store, and dispose of sharp waste

The Ultimate Guide to Sharps Disposal: how to use, store, and dispose of sharp waste

Once only tools used by qualified medical professionals and their assistants, medical devices such as needles, scalpels, and lancets are now widely used by people suffering from a wide range of medical conditions without medical supervision. As self-managing becomes more and more common across the world, the rise in need for education about sharps, their usage, storage and their disposal ultimately follows. This guide will tell you everything and anything that you need to know about sharps and sharps disposal.


What are sharps?

Sharps are medical devices with points or edges that can puncture the skin. The medical term sharps is used to denote any device that is either designed to or is capable of puncturing the human skin, most of which are seen in a medical or laboratory setting. The most commonly used forms include:

● Needles- needles are devices designed to inject drugs into the skin for the treatment of medical diseases.
● Syringes- syringes are medical devices meant to either inject fluid or withdraw it from the body.
● Lancets- these short, double-edged blades are often used to prick people’s fingers to draw blood at the doctor’s office. Very common for the treatment of diabetes.

Other less-common types include scalpels, auto-injectors, and infusion sets. It’s important to note that items that could also become sharp are included in the legal definition. That means lab dishes, certain tubes, and pipettes are included as well. Anything that could potentially break and have a sharp edge falls under the term sharps. Sharps disposal is heavily regulated by both state and federal bodies, so it’s important to be informed about issues regarding them.

How to dispose of sharps at home

The millions of Americans who manage their medical conditions at home create a great deal of potentially dangerous waste, meaning we all need to be properly informed and to follow the disposal guidelines. Sharps disposal is important not just for personal safety, but for that of those around you and even the environment. Here are some tips for how to dispose of sharps at home:

1. Know your state regulations- the programs in each state for sharps disposal may differ and certain states may have convenient programs for you to use. Some may permit you to return them to your physician while others may not. Know the regulations in your state first.
2. Dispose of them in a proper container- you can buy a commercially available sharps container at medical supply stores, some pharmacies, the web, or perhaps a government office.
3. If you don’t have a container- if you do not have access to one or cannot afford one, there are options for sharps disposal without a proper container. Use a safe, puncture-resistant container(such as a laundry detergent bottle or coffee can) that is not see-through. See-through containers will allow scavengers to tell what’s inside.
4. Label the container properly- it’s important that you label the container “Medical sharps: Do Not Recycle”.
5. Never dispose of them in the trash or recycling!

“385,000 sharps-related injuries occur among health-care workers each year, according to CDC estimates”

The dangers of sharps injuries

Sharps disposal is important not just to protect your own safety, but also that of those around you and the public at large. If trained medical professionals are so often injured during their usage, then it’s easy to see how so many Americans are injured at home each year, too. If you don’t follow the regulations, others are put at risk. For example:

● Family members- young children don’t know how to properly use medical devices, they might mistake them for toys. If they are pricked by a needle, they could become very ill.
● Pets- pets often go digging through the trash for scraps. You open them up to serious injury to illness by leaving using sharps in the trash.
● Trash workers- municipal workers who dispose of our waste aren’t expecting to find sharp objects in the trash. You put them at risk by leaving them in the trash or recycling.
● The environment- you run the risk of contaminating the environment if you don’t follow the regulations.

If you are injured while using one or someone else is injured by something that you’ve disposed of, there is a risk of bloodborne pathogens being transferred or infections setting in aside from the obvious cuts and puncture wounds.

Tips for using sharps

The majority of injuries during the usage of sharps occur because of carelessness. This is even true amongst experienced, well-trained medical professionals. There are a few tips that you should be aware of when it comes to using them. Some advice from the CDC includes:

● Remain calm
● Go slowly
● Don’t use them when under stress
● Follow the guidelines from you physician
● Always dispose of them immediately
● And NEVER re-use them

Most injuries occur because people go to fast and don’t pay attention. Always remember to properly clean the area around the puncture wound, too.

Other sharps disposal options

If you don’t want to dispose of sharps in a container outside of your home, there are a few other options that you can take advantage of depending on where you live and if there are any programs in your city, town, or state. Some of the most common options are:

● Asking your physician- some medical professionals accept sharps in containers for safe sharps disposal
● Return them to a drop-off location- many larger cities have disposal programs and safe drop-off sites for you to bring your waste to. Check here for more information.
● Mail-back programs- you can participate in a mail-back program where you place your used sharps in specially-designed envelopes and send them in on a regular schedule.
● Contact a hospital- some hospitals might accept sharps in proper containers. Call them and ask.

Sharps are a very widely used but dangerous part of the medical industry, but as more and more Americans treat their medical conditions at home, work, or school, safe disposal increases in importance. Sharps disposal is important for your safety, the safety of those around you, and for the environment. Make sure to follow these regulations closely, and always contact your physician before making any major decisions.

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