As the country continues to open up amid declining COVID rates, more and more people are venturing into the office, eating out in restaurants, and traveling. However, many are still working from home, and for people with chronic conditions that require injectable therapies—such as diabetic patients—this resurfaces a long-standing problem: how to safely dispose of used needles, lancets, and other sharps used for care management. In recognition of Diabetes Awareness Month, we’re sharing some best practices for sharps management safety.
The Risks of Improper Sharps Disposal
If not disposed correctly, sharps can lead to needlestick injuries. Not only are these painful, but the needle could be contaminated by a bloodborne pathogen—pathogenic microorganisms that are present in blood and that can cause disease.
Home-generated sharps waste is not subject to regulation, but it is recommended that needles, lancets, syringes, and other sharp instruments be disposed in specially designed, puncture-resistant containers that are separate from regular trash. Once full, the container should be sent to a permitted facility for treatment and processing to render the waste safe for final disposal. Healthcare organizations, including doctors’ offices, surgery centers, labs, and hospitals, regularly have these types of containers within reach of patient care areas. However, they are less prevalent outside of the healthcare setting.
What Happens When There Are No Sharps Containers Nearby?
Without easy access to a sharps waste container, an individual may be forced to get creative about disposal. For example, they may opt to throw used needles in the regular trash, which can have a lot of negative repercussions. If the trash container is overflowing, for example, then anyone who gets near it runs the risk of a needlestick injury. Similarly, anyone emptying the trash or processing it at a waste management plant could be injured by a sharp object.
Some people may opt to hold on to a used needle in their backpack or another bag until they find a suitable sharps container. However, this strategy presents risks as well because the individual or someone else could injure themselves if they come in contact with the sharp item, or it could cause cross-contamination with other of the items.
Protecting Communities With Convenient and Safe Sharps Disposal Options
Retailers and pharmacies have a responsibility to protect their employees and patrons, and providing safe, compliant sharps disposal solutions is an important part of safeguarding them. Pharmacists in particular are on the front-line, supporting patients who use injectable medications, and may be called upon to advise on how to safely dispose of used sharps. By providing mail-back sharps containers when they fill prescriptions for injectable medications, pharmacies can help patients safely dispose of sharps at home. Ultimately, this allows pharmacists to become stewards for safer communities by protecting not only their patients, but all community members who are potentially put at risk by unsafe sharps disposal. Keeping sharps out of the regular trash through simple solutions for patrons can help you generate goodwill in your community by demonstrating your commitment to customer value and safety.
Individuals should also take responsibility for properly disposing of their sharps waste when away from home and plan ahead when going out. Healthcare providers play a critical role in making sure patients are ready to assume this responsibility. By providing education about the risks of improper disposal and how to access suitable containers, providers can empower individuals to be careful and intentional when throwing away used equipment. There are many educational resources available from the federal government and non-profit organizations. By reviewing the do’s and don’ts of sharps disposal, providers can set their patients up for success.
Employers and commercial businesses can also support these individuals by installing safer disposal solutions in public areas. These offer staff and customers a way to dispose of sharps waste discretely and limit the chances of accidental needlestick injuries. Containers should be made of hard, puncture-resistant plastic and designed to enable easy, secure disposal and avoid overfilling. Containers can be mounted to restroom walls or other designated areas to ensure privacy. Some retailers are leading the charge in this effort by installing sharps containers in bathrooms, helping limit the risks to workers while also providing a service to their customers.
Simple and Flexible Sharps Management Solutions
Stericycle’s SafeDrop™ Mail Back containers include prepaid shipping boxes and return labels to send full containers of sharps waste for safe disposal. An added benefit to these solutions is that they validate patient adherence to medication regimens and provide visibility into when an individual discontinues injectable therapies. The waste disposal company can provide reports that show when containers were shipped and, delivered and as well as how much they weighed, which can help a pharmacy determine whether a patient is continuing to use medication and at what rate.
Having a condition that requires the use of sharp instruments for self-management can be challenging on many fronts. However, disposing of used sharps can be easier if communities collaborate to make proper disposal solutions readily available. Learn more about how Stericycle can help streamline sharps disposal in public spaces.