Sharp instruments, such as needles and syringes, are commonly used across many healthcare industries, and people may also use them in their homes as part of ongoing chronic disease care for conditions like diabetes.
Proper disposal of sharps after use is essential to preserve the safety of healthcare workers, patients, and the environment. Taking time to fully understand what’s involved in safe sharps waste disposal is important to ensure your organization is effectively managing this common waste stream.
What Are Sharps?
In healthcare, sharps are a form of biomedical waste generated during the provision of care, treatment, and service. There are many kinds of sharps found in healthcare organizations, including:
- Hypodermic needles
- Syringes, such as insulin syringes for diabetic patients
- Wires, including dental wires
How to Prevent Sharps Injuries
When a contaminated sharp penetrates the skin, such as through a puncture or cut, there is a risk of bloodborne pathogen transmission. A bloodborne pathogen is a microorganism, such as a virus, bacteria, or fungi, which may be present in blood or other body fluids, and can lead to serious illness like hepatitis, AIDS, or other bloodborne diseases. If a sharps injury is not immediately addressed, the injured person could become very sick.
The best way to limit the likelihood of bloodborne pathogen transmission is to reduce the chances of sharps injuries. Proper sharps waste disposal is a key strategy for curbing these events.
How to Dispose of Needles and Other Sharps
Sharps should be placed in a specially designed and approved sharps container after use. These receptacles are made of either hard plastic or cardboard and are designed to prevent punctures, leaks, and overfilling that objects such as needles can cause. They are also clearly labeled as biomedical to ensure proper handling.
Healthcare organizations should place sharps waste disposal containers in areas where sharps are used, including exam rooms, laboratories, pharmacies, and nurses’ stations. Organizations can work with a medical waste management expert, like Stericycle, to better understand local and provincial regulations for not only optimal sharps container placement, but sharps removal service protocols.
Organizations may opt to use reusable sharps containers to help meet organizational sustainability goals. Reusable containers are made of hard plastic and reduce the number of receptacles ending up in landfills.
How to Dispose of Sharps Containers
Once a sharps container is full, it should be removed from the healthcare facility and transported and disposed of by a medical waste management expert.
What Does Not Go in a Sharps Container?
Sharps containers are reserved for those items that are contaminated and that could puncture the skin. Proper training can help ensure staff are fully aware of what can and cannot be disposed of in a sharps container.
Things that should not be thrown in a sharps container include:
- Tape, paper, bandages/gauze, exam gloves, alcohol preps
- Medication and medication wrappers
- Aerosols or inhalers
- Garbage or liquids of any kind
- Batteries of any type
- Hazardous, chemical, radioactive, or red bag waste (non-sharps regulated medical waste)
- Fixatives and preservatives
What Happens to Sharps Waste?
There are two common treatment methods for sharps waste. The most frequent method for treating sharps is autoclaving, which uses a timed, high-temperature, high-pressure steaming process to neutralize any infectious agents. The resulting “clean” waste can then be sent to a landfill.
In certain cases, such as when sharps are contaminated with trace chemotherapeutic waste, incineration is required. This involves subjecting the waste to high temperatures that promote combustion or burning. The remaining ash is then sent to a landfill for disposal.
How Is Sharps Waste Regulated?
The management of sharps waste is highly regulated due to its potentially hazardous nature. Several regulatory bodies oversee various aspects of sharps waste management. For example, both the Federal and the Provincial Ministries of the Environment govern the impacts of biohazardous waste on the environment, while Transport Canada also oversees how sharps waste is transported. The Canada Labour Code and Provincial Labour Ministries address the worker safety implications regarding bloodborne pathogen transmission and cover topics like proper waste containers, staff training, and injury reporting.
When developing or refining a sharps waste management program, be sure to check provincial regulations first and then examine the federal ones to make certain a program is in full compliance.
An Expert Resource Can Help Ensure a Consistent and Compliant Sharps Disposal Program
A sharps disposal program can preserve staff and patient safety while safeguarding the environment. By working with a knowledgeable medical waste management expert, healthcare organizations can be sure they have the proper equipment, training, and resources to support consistent and reliable sharps disposal, keeping their people, facilities, and communities safe.
To learn more about how Stericycle can enhance and support your sharps management and waste program, visit our sharps management service page.