The disposal of needle and syringe waste can create a range of safety concerns. Without the right disposal practices, sharps waste may increase the spread of bloodborne pathogens and pose other environmental hazards.
To maintain a safer community and protect against the transmission of diseases, explore the best practices for needle and syringe waste disposal.
Why Is It Important?
Sharps and needles waste can be toxic and infectious. The discarded waste may include traces of pathogens, infectious diseases, medication, blood, or bodily fluids. If best practices are not adhered to during the disposal of sharps waste, the risk of exposure will be present.
For example, disposing of sharps in waste containers that are not meant for sharps will increase the risk of exposure to needles. Using local domestic waste and recycling streams further adds to the potential hazards. Needles and syringes may cause punctures during the landfill compacting process, and waste that is recycled poses health risks to the staff at the recycling centre. These practices increase the risk of certain health hazards.
Moreover, current practices vary from one region to the next, due to a difference in regulations between State and Territory governments. Each jurisdiction has separate processes, especially when it comes to the community disposal of sharps waste – which can result in a lack of standardisation.
How To Properly Dispose of Needle And Syringe Waste
The disposal of needle and syringe waste is carefully regulated in the healthcare sector. Healthcare workers must follow strict procedures when handling or disposing of sharps.
Best practices for waste disposal should address all potential hazards, including hazards to human health and the environment. Minimising the health risks and environmental hazards associated with improper waste disposal starts with the use of small sharps containers.
Dedicated sharps containers are typically hard plastic containers used for the safe disposal of needles and other sharp instruments. The containers are leak-proof and puncture-proof. After the container is full, it is either dropped off at a collection site or retrieved by a waste management company.
Recommended Best Practices For Using Sharps Containers
Using a sharps container is just one of the best practices for the safe disposal of needles and syringes. According to leading health and safety experts, the following best practices are recommended:
- Dispose of sharps at the source
- Use containers that meet Australian standards
- Ensure that containers are properly secured
- Use containers that are large enough for the expected waste
- Regularly replace containers
- Never manually empty a sharps container
- Do not dispose of untreated sharps waste in landfills
- Do not dispose of sharps waste in domestic waste/recycling systems
Needles and syringes need to be disposed of at the source, which means disposing of the waste at the site where the sharps are used. Individuals should not need to carry sharps waste to another room or location.
The containers must also be properly secured. Failure to secure the container may result in accidents, such as spilling the contents of the container or puncturing the skin. The size of the container should provide enough space for the expected volume of waste. Frequent replacement is also necessary to avoid exceeding the container’s capacity.
Frequently replacing the container and ensuring that it has a large enough capacity decreases the chances of overfilling the container. Filling a container beyond capacity increases the chances of someone accidentally poking themselves with sharps waste.
You should never manually empty a container. Replacing a container typically involves a collection schedule with a local waste management company. Some companies also provide drop-off sites. After collection, the container is replaced with a new one.
What Are the Australian Standards for Sharps Containers?
One of the best practices for disposing of needles and syringes includes the use of sharps containers that meet all relevant Australian standards.
Australian standard AS4031/92 covers the specifications for non-reusable containers for the safe collection of used sharp objects. The standard does not apply to sharps containers intended for personal use. Non-reusable personal use containers should comply with Australian standard AS4939/2001.
Both sets of standards include specifications for the following areas:
- Design and construction
- Impact resistance
- Resistance to penetration
Complying with these standards decreases the risk of harm to humans and the environment.
The Dangers Of Improper Needle And Syringe Disposal
Improper disposal of sharp objects increases the chance of someone injuring themselves. Individuals handling a sharps disposal container or discarding waste in a standard trash receptacle may accidentally puncture their skin.
Exposure to the contents of the waste may lead to infections or the contraction of various diseases and viruses. Diseases that can spread through sharps waste include HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne infections.
Improper disposal of sharp objects may also cause harm to the environment. Sharps found in the recycling stream may limit the availability of recycled material. Disposing of needles and syringes in landfills can contribute to unhealthy soil. Waste that seeps into soil or water supplies may also cause critical illnesses in animals and humans.
Individuals stuck by a sharp object should immediately follow several safety precautions. Rinse the site of the injury with a skin disinfectant, such as rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer. Thoroughly wash the affected area with soap and water. After washing the site of the injury, contact a physician or hospital. Get tested as soon as possible for any infections or diseases that may have been transmitted through the needle or syringe.
Proper Sharps Disposal Requires Sharps Containers
Needles and syringes pose serious health risks when not properly disposed of. Healthcare facilities often have detailed procedures for sharps disposal. However, the same procedures are not always followed outside of hospitals.
Local government regulations may not cover needle and syringe waste disposal. This leaves communities to decide on the best practices for their local area.
The bottom line is that best practices for sharps disposal should include the use of sharps containers or disposable biohazard container. Dedicated containers help keep needles, syringes, and other sharps from entering the domestic waste system or recycling system.