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Medical Sharps

What are the issues?

Medical sharps (including syringes, pen needles, and lancets) enable consumers to self-inject medications at home or away from traditional health care settings. It is estimated that over 3 billion medical sharps enter the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream each year in the United States. 

Self-injectors routinely discard of medical sharps in household trash, recycling bins (in plastic containers), or by flushing them. These disposal methods create the potential for injury or the transmission of infectious diseases to homeowners, sanitation workers, sewage treatment plant operators, and waste management personnel at transfer stations, recycling facilities, and disposal facilities. They also create costly maintenance problems when loose sharps become jammed in equipment, posing a potential hazard to anyone trying to remove them, or to the equipment itself.

Citizens can take action to ensure that medical sharps are disposed properly.

Got used sharps? Read this.

What is PSI Doing to Help?

Since 2008, PSI has worked with multiple stakeholders to advocate for an extended producer responsibility (EPR) approach to collecting and safely disposing of medical sharps. Here are some important highlights, starting with the most recent, first:


In March 2018, PSI facilitated the Illinois Medical Sharps Safe Management Stakeholder Dialogue in Chicago, a meeting hosted by the Illinois Product Stewardship Council to address the problems posed by unsafe medical sharps management and discuss opportunities, barriers, and potential solutions to resolve those issues. The initiative began with the development of a Briefing Summary which was developed based on PSI's research and interviews with representatives of the medical sharps and pharmaceutical industries, government officials, and public health groups. The meeting attracted over 50 stakeholders from the pharmaceuticals and sharps industry, waste management companies, local and state governments, health practitioners, and nonprofit organizations. The agenda included presentations about public and employee health and safety issues, infrastructure, and education, as well as a facilitated discussion led by PSI. View the presentation and draft meeting notes to learn more.

2008 – 2009

PSI facilitated a national dialogue to maximize the safe and environmentally sound disposal of waste sharps in a manner that is financially sustainable. The initiative began with the development of a Project Summary and then a Product Stewardship Action Plan for Medical Sharps, which was developed based on background research and interviews with representatives of the medical sharps and pharmaceutical industries, government officials, and public health groups. 
PSI convened three dialogue meetings in 2008 and 2009, and  convened two work groups during the dialogue process. The Data Work group examined data related to the nature and the scope of the problem, including the risks associated with accidental needle wounds. While the risk of disease transmission from such a needle stick is generally low, costs can be significant for both individuals and their employers. The Projects Work group conducted a survey to collect information on the operations, costs, safety, and management of sharps collection programs underway at pharmacies and public facilities around the country. The results are available upon request.
At the conclusion of these meetings, participants agreed on a plan for PSI to develop and implement a pilot collection project in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, there was not sufficient support from the self-injected pharmaceutical companies to contribute to the demonstration project. Without a negotiated agreement, states would continue to independently seek legislation for a sustainably financed solution, and this legislation would likely vary as different models emerged across the country. PSI developed a memo describing the conclusion of the dialogue and recommending that the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing self-injected medicine should be primarily responsible for financing sharps collection programs. PSI coordinated closely with the Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal during the dialogue process.


To view existing product stewardship laws in the U.S., visit our State EPR Laws page. To view pending and active legislation in the U.S.privileged content available exclusively to PSI Members and Partnerslogin here.



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