While most sharps are generated in medical facilities, there are many locations that are involved with sharps including but not limited to: funeral homes, veterinarians, coroners, laboratories, body piercing shops, tattoo parlors, dentists, and pharmacies. Home use of hypodermic needles for medical treatment is another growing location where sharps are found. All these places are required to use proper sharps containers and to arrange for disposal processes that comply with all legal guidelines.
Sharps are any item that can cut or pierce the skin that may contain or does contain transmittable diseases. Injuries from sharps are attributed to thousands of exposures to deadly diseases every year. According to the World Health Organization, sharps accidents expose healthcare workers to the potential transmission of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), HCV (hepatitis C) and HBV (hepatitis B). In addition, improper disposal of sharps can allow the leaking of bloodborne pathogens into the land and water sources, transmitting these diseases to the environment and all life in proximity. Due to the serious conditions of sharps, they are listed as biohazardous waste and there have been local, state, and federal guidelines established for the proper handling, storage, and disposal of sharps.
Sharps Home Use Container Disposal
Typically, the standard home use of sharps is low in volume, however, the sharps remain just as dangerous as any other location. A majority of home use involves needles and once used; they need to be stored in a safe container that complies with the same guidelines as the professional medical institutions:
Sturdy, rigid plastic container that can be sealed.
Contain that will not leak.
A container that is puncture resistant.
Container filled to the 2/3 point only.
Container in red color or labeled with the universal biohazard label.
It is a good idea to check with the drug manufacturer or health insurance provider to see if they offer cost-free programs for FDA-cleared sharps containers. Another choice is to use home containers that comply with the requirements such as a clean laundry detergent container with a tight lid.
Storing sharps containers in a home can present a danger to others and the containers should be disposed of according to local, state, and federal guidelines. There are some options for those that use sharps at home for disposing of the containers properly. You will need to check with your local and state health authorities to see if any of these services are available:
Hospitals, clinics, pharmacies: Some medical organizations offer the option of dropping off home-use sharps containers that comply with regulations and they will be responsible for proper disposal according to the laws. Chain pharmacies such as Walgreens have partnered with Novo Nordisk to provide a collection and disposal service. Some larger hospitals and medical facilities have in-house medical waste disposal options but must be licensed/certified to accept sharps/medical waste drop offs.
Mail-back programs: These programs require that the home-use sharps be placed in FDA-cleared plastic-lined sharps containers and they are then put into shipping containers that are mailed using U.S.P.S. regulations to a collection site for disposal according to the laws. Mail-back programs usually involve a fee based on container size and there may be certain requirements involved in the mail-back process. In some cases, drug manufacturers offer mail-back programs.
Home-use Sharps Disposal Products: There are quite a few products on the market that can be used in the home to destroy used needles involving needle melting and sterilization. You can check with your health insurance provider whether they help to cover the cost and your healthcare provider where you may purchase them.
Hazardous Waste Collection Sites; Household Use: Not all areas offer a hazardous waste collection site, and you will need to check with your local regulations whether this is an option. These are collection sites that will accept household waste, and many include sharps containers. The sharps will be required to be in an FDA-cleared sharps container before acceptance.
Business Regulated Biohazardous Waste Generator Types
Sharps are a hazardous waste. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) refers to any business or organization that produces hazardous waste as a “generator.” Federal regulations dictate that a generator is responsible for this waste in a “cradle-to-grave” concept which means from the moment of generation to proving that the waste was disposed of according to the local, state, and federal guidelines, rendering it harmless.
The guidelines for each type of generator are extremely strict and differ based on the category. Both state and federal organizations have increased their auditing of those organizations that generator biohazardous waste.
To assist in complying with regulations, the EPA has created three categories for generators based on the volume of hazardous waste produced: Very small quantity generators, Small quantity generators, and Large quantity generators. It’s important to know which category an organization falls into for appropriate compliance procedures.
Lack of compliance by any generator can result in high fines and fees that can cause business closure.
VSQGs (Very Small Quantity Generators: generate 100 kg or less of hazardous waste/month or 1 kg or less/month of acutely hazardous waste. Those organizations or companies that fall into this category must identify all the hazardous waste that is generated and may not have an accumulation of over 1,000 kg of hazardous waste at any time. These organizations are required to deliver the hazardous waste to a facility that is authorized to manage and dispose of the waste according to all laws. VSQGs may also not store the waste more than 90 days at their location once the limit has been reached beginning with the date that the waste is generated. Typically, home-use generators are VSQGs.
SQGs (Small Quantity Generators): generate over 100 kg but less than 1,000 kg of hazardous waste each month. SQGs can accumulate on-site hazardous waste for 180 days without a permit requirement (or 270 days if they are shipping the waste at a distance greater than 200 mi). The hazardous waste amount that is on-site may never be greater than 6,000 kg. SQGs are required to comply with the hazardous waste manifest requirements (40 CFR part 262, subpart B) and the pre-transport requirements (40 CFR sections 262.30-262.33) of federal guidelines. SQGs also have specific management requirements found in 40 CFR sections 262.16(b)(2) and (3) regarding managing hazardous waste tanks and containers. SQGs are required to comply with prevention and preparedness requirements found in 40 CFR sections 262.16(b)(8) and (9) and part 49 CFR part 268 for the land disposal restriction requirements. SQGs must have a least 1 employee available as a responder in case of an emergency. This is the employee that will be the emergency coordinator responsible for all measures for emergency response. SQGs are not required to have detailed written contingency plans. Organizations and businesses such as a small tattoo parlor, independent pharmacy, body piercing company, clinic or health facility would be considered as an SQG. These organizations can save a lot of time and effort by arranging with a licensed medical waste pickup company on a quarterly schedule for their sharps and any other medical waste they may have.
LQGs (Large Quantity Generators): generate 1,000 kg or more of hazardous waste/month or more than 1 kg/mo of acutely hazardous waste. LQGs are only allowed the accumulation of on-site waste for 90 days, however, there are some restrictions. LQGs are not required to have a limit of the quantity of on-site hazardous waste accumulation. LQGs are required to manage the hazardous waste generated in containers, tanks, drip pads or containment buildings according to the requirements of 40 CFR sections 262.17(a)(1)-(4) with other requirements for containment buildings and drip pads at 40 CFR part 265, subparts DD and W. LQGs are required for compliance with the hazardous waste manifest requirements at 40 CFR parts 262 subpart B and the 40 CFR sections 262.30 -262.33 for pre-transport requirements. LQGs are required to comply with the preparedness, prevention and emergency procedure requirements outlined in 40 CFR 262 subpart M and the 40 CFR part 268 for the land disposal restriction requirements. LQGs are required to submit a biennial hazardous waste report. LQGs are the most common organizations that take advantage of using a trained and certified medical waste disposal company for the sharps and other hazardous waste that they generate. Scheduled pickups allow LQGs to maintain compliance and are supplied the required manifests in case of audit. Typical organizations that fall into the LQG category can include hospitals, large pharmacies, and extended care facilities.
Lack of Compliance Consequences:
State and federal laws place the responsibility of proper disposal of hazardous waste such as sharps on the generator. This means that compliance on all levels is a requirement and they must use appropriate handling, storage, and transport for the hazardous waste. Improper disposal of hazardous waste can result in penalties, loss of reputation and business, as well as the potential harm to the community and the environment. Lack of appropriate staff training for sharps could result in the accidental transmission of potentially deadly diseases. Using a licensed and trained medical waste disposal company can save time and money and assist in ensuring safety and efficacy.
Healthcare Waste Management Company Benefits
There are extremely strict laws and guidelines involved in sharps and biohazardous waste on a federal level, there are often additional state laws that must be complied with for SQGs and LQGs. Most smaller organizations do not have the time or staff to keep up with compliance laws and none of the government agencies allow ignorance of the guidelines as an excuse. In addition to compliance for handling, storage and disposal of hazardous waste, there are OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Agency) guidelines for training employees for safety practices.
Most SQGs and LQGs have many types of biohazardous waste, including sharps and need to use the services of a medical waste disposal company that can take care of all their medical waste disposal needs.
The key to compliance exists in knowledge, and a trained and professional medical waste disposal company can:
Coordinate with an organization for the best pickup schedule.
Offer training and certification for staff for OSHA safety practices.
Train staff for hazardous waste segregation procedures.
Act as a consultant to review a location for compliancy regulations.
Supply FDA-cleared hazardous waste containers.
Maintain communication regarding any changes in regulations.
Continual evaluation to inform if an organization’s waste category has changed and the rules/laws that will be required for compliance.
Assure a generator that the medical waste has been rendered harmless and properly disposed of according to the laws.
Supply a generator with the appropriate manifests and documents.
Healthcare Waste Management takes full responsibility for the biohazardous waste, including sharps, the moment that we pick them up. The biohazardous waste is transported to our licensed facility where each type of waste is disposed of accordingly.