To dispose of needles, syringes, lancets, and other sharps, ask these 8 questions to help determine the types of sharps containers you need.
1. What will you do with your sharps containers?
This may sound like a silly question. But start with the end in mind. Look ahead to the disposal service you’ll be using. Some companies and drugstores sell sharps containers — without any disposal service. Filled sharps containers remain in homes, offices, and businesses — without a final destination.
If you are a business or healthcare facility, you can’t use just “any old plastic jug” for your sharps disposal. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requires that you use specific engineering and work practice controls, which includes suitable sharps disposal containers, to protect employees from bloodborne pathogens.
Additionally, the FDA requires that sharps containers be approved as class II medical devices. This approval process ensures that your containers have gone through a rigorous 510(k) approval. FDA-approved sharps containers must be properly labeled, closable, puncture-resistant, leak-proof on the sides and bottoms, and made using good manufacturing practices (GMP) that help ensure high quality products.
As a business, you may find that it’s more efficient to purchase your biohazard disposal service with your containers. Multisite facilities, hospitals, and other large facilities may also want to consider reusable sharps containers with sharps management services.
No matter what service you ultimately choose, be sure to use sharps containers that will be accepted by the eventual disposal service. Keep in mind that, in order to ensure employee safety, some disposal service providers accept only their own containers or bins.
For individuals at home, an all-inclusive program, such as the consumer needle disposal program offered by Stericycle, may be ideal. These programs allow at-home patients to safely discard sharps in containers AND dispose of the containers themselves through an approved mailback system.
The Stericycle mailback system consists of an inner FDA-approved sharps container and special outer packaging stringently tested and approved by the US Postal Service for infectious substances (Hazard Class 6, Division 6.2). Among other requirements, the outer packaging must meet leak-proof, stacking, vibration, wet drop, cold drop, impact, puncture-resistant, temperature, absorbency, and watertight testing criteria.
People who use sharps at home to treat their health conditions can simply go to the online store or call 1.800.355.8773 to purchase mailback programs that include prepaid shipping — to and from home — along with compliant disposal and documentation.
2. If you are a business, what type of facility do you have?
When it comes to sharps containers, needs vary widely. No matter where you work or live, you’ll want to buy sharps containers or bins that have lids designed to accommodate the largest sharps you use.
Some healthcare facilities, such as infusion clinics or surgical centers, generate vast numbers and sizes of sharps each day. For example, workers in diagnostic labs may need containers with wide openings, allowing fast, convenient disposal and daily pickups. In contrast, some practitioners may need only quart-size containers and monthly pickups.
You’ll also want containers that promote one-handed disposal and that prevent your hands from entering the sharps containers. This is especially true in pediatric and family practices where a rotating cylinder lid (called a “counterbalance lid”) is often recommended to keep tiny hands out of sharps containers.
For other businesses, such as body art studios, mailback programs may be necessary. Typical disposal service routes may not coordinate with nighttime business hours.
An experienced product specialist can offer you consultative guidance to help you properly identify the containers that will meet your needs.
3. What are you putting into your sharps containers?
This may sound a bit like asking, “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” But the reality is that some sharps do not belong in sharps containers.
Chemotherapy needles, vials, bags, and tubing must be empty AND have less than 3% of the former weight remaining to be considered “RCRA-empty.” RCRA (pronounced WRECK-rah or RICK-rah) refers to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designation for RCRA-hazardous wastes. Most RCRA-empty items containing trace chemo are more appropriately placed in “trace” chemotherapy containers (either trace chemo biohazard bags for non-sharps items or trace chemo biohazard sharps containers for sharps items, as appropriate).
Containers with more than 3% of the original weight of chemotherapy waste still remaining, sometimes called “bulk” chemo waste, are not trace chemo waste. Many are actually RCRA-hazardous waste. These wastes are required to be disposed in RCRA-hazardous waste containers. Other types of pharmaceuticals may also be deemed RCRA-hazardous waste.
Keeping all pharmaceuticals out of sharps containers and other biohazardous waste bins is a best practice and the law in some states. Special pharmaceutical waste containers are available for non-RCRA-hazardous pharmaceutical waste.
Similarly, nonsharp biohazards or “soft” medical waste belongs in a red bag for disposal — not a sharps container. Conversely, don’t put loose sharps into other containers, such as red bags for disposal.
4. What other laws or regulations apply to you?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires annual bloodborne pathogens (BBP) training for employees who may be exposed to bloodborne pathogens.
Your state may have more specific, and often complex, requirements for waste disposal or training.
Some states, such as California and Massachusetts, have regulations for home needle disposal. Furthermore, state laws for consumers are continuing to evolve and change.
A competent sharps disposal service can help answer questions you may have about your state regulations.
5. How quickly will you accumulate sharps waste?
Are you a new practitioner, starting your career? You may need a scalable program of containers and services. If you’re an existing office, how often do you change your containers?
The answers to these questions, along with your state or facility guidelines, will help determine how many and what size containers you may need.
6. How many sharps use areas do you have?
If you are a business or healthcare facility, systematically identify each exam room and other specific areas of your facility where sharps will be used. This will allow you easy access when discarding sharps.
You’ll need storage space for unused sharps containers, so you can readily replace full containers. You’ll also need a secure place to store your used, filled sharps containers.
7. How else will you help ensure safe access to your sharps containers?
Place your sharps containers within arm’s reach and label them with obvious biohazard warnings. Containers should be located away from wall switches, clear of impact zones, and free of any obstacles. The container opening and fill status line should be clearly visible prior to use.
If you are using wall containers, mount them at 52"-56" for fill-line viewing and safe access. Your containers should be recognizable below eye level of your team members who will be using them. Be sure to work with your staff to identify issues and concerns they may have as part of your bloodborne pathogens program.
8. Do you need fixed or mobile sharps containers?
Often, securely mounted sharps containers provide the most safety, provided they are used, removed, and transported correctly. However, mobile sharps containers may be appropriate for some situations, such as mobile blood donation centers. Be sure to keep containers closed when not in use.