Medical Sharps
Medical sharps

The Problem

Medical “sharps” – disposable needles, syringes, and lancets – let us self-inject medications at home or away from traditional health care settings. They are so convenient and popular that Americans use and discard more than 3 billion of them each year.

But when tossed in household trash, recycling bins (even inside plastic containers), littered, or flushed, these devices can injure or transmit diseases to friends and family, hospitality personnel, trash collectors, and recycling and sewage workers. They also create costly maintenance problems when loose sharps jam waste management equipment, posing a hazard to anyone trying to remove them, or to the equipment itself.

The Solution

Sharps “take-back” programs let people conveniently drop off used sharps for safe disposal. But to be effective, these programs must be sustainably funded, convenient, and publically available year-round.

PSI has advocates for “extended producer responsibility” (EPR) laws that make sharps and/or pharmaceutical manufacturers pay for and manage sharps take-back programs. We lead the movement for sharps EPR nationally by bringing together the public and private sectors to seek a joint EPR solution and expand the listings on SafeNeedleDisposal.org to make it easy for consumers to find safe disposal options. By raising awareness of the problem and facilitating dialogues between key stakeholders, PSI helped pave the way for the sharps EPR laws that exist today.

Got used sharps? Read this to learn how to dispose of them safely!

Learn how to dispose sharps

How We’re Leading the Way

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PSI is providing technical assistance and best practices to the sponsors and authors of an EPR bill to establish sharps and pharmaceuticals take-back in Illinois and is providing lobbying support to the Illinois Product Stewardship Council. This builds on our past work helping strengthen and pass a 2016 pharmaceuticals EPR law in Cook County, Illinois and facilitating a state dialogue on sharps management. We are working closely with local governments, waste management companies, environmental groups, public health organizations, and other stakeholders to ensure such laws are passed and implemented effectively.

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Through our Global Webinar series, PSI has hosted two webinars on global best practices for sharps take-back programs. On the first such webinar, speakers from the U.S., Canada, and France described the EPR policies behind their programs; explained how the programs collect and manage sharps; and discussed program costs and performance, public awareness, and lessons learned. The second webinar dove into regulations, challenges, benefits and current status of three ways to reduce waste generated by sharps take-back containers— reuse, recycling, and container elimination— and how each advances a circular economy. These webinars are part of PSI’s ongoing global conversation about safe sharps disposal.

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In partnership with the Oklahoma (OK) Department of Environmental Quality, PSI ran a multi-stakeholder dialogue meeting to find consensus on an action plan for medical sharps and pharmaceuticals stewardship in the state. PSI also facilitates an OK stakeholder group that coordinates initiatives that support the safe disposal of these products. Participants include OK state and local governments, pharmacy boards, university institutes, solid waste managers, recyclers, environmentalists, waste-to-energy companies, and public health professionals.

How You Can Help

Contact PSI for assistance to develop or pass an EPR bill, or to arrange a stakeholder dialogue meeting to discuss the problems posed by sharps, the challenges to overcome, and potential solutions (both voluntary and regulatory) for your region.

Take your used medical sharps to a safe sharps disposal option near you.

Raise awareness about safe sharps disposal in your community.

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