Medical waste are any materials that pertain to personal health, including pills, needles and syringes, and inhalers. This also includes equipment used in hospitals and medical care centers.
Until recently recycling sharp materials, or “sharps,” was not seriously considered by many hospitals. A survey in 2010 estimated that hospitals generate 5.9 million tons of waste per year, much of it due to most materials being thrown out. Many feared that the idea of reusing sharps, even after going through a rigorous heating and treatment process, would still pose a risk of infection or disease. Gradually hospitals have begun to be more environmentally conscious by partnering with waste management centers to safely handle and process medical waste. Now, at least half of all hospitals in America participate in a medical waste recycling program, including receiving consumer sharps as well.
When looking to dispose of medical waste, there are very strict regulations set by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure the safety of anyone who handles hazardous waste material.
- When disposing of sharps or pills, never throw them in the garbage. This exposes anyone who touches the garbage bag to potential diseases.
- Prepare a strong container, such as a laundry detergent container, to store used sharps. It has to be able to be sealed, and must not be able to be punctured by any sharp objects inside -or outside- of the container.
- Never throw medical waste down the toilet or on the ground. Safety is key when handling sharps, and any item that is left unattended can risk injury to workers, families, and animals.
- Once the container is 3/4 full, seal it with tape marked ‘Hazardous Materials’.
Once a sharps container is sealed, there are a few ways to safely remove them.
- Drop Box or Supervised Collection sites (Health Departments, Fire Department, Hospitals, etc.)
- Household Hazardous Waste Collection sites
- Mail-Back Programs
- Residential Special Waste Pick-Up Services
Each state has specific regulations pertaining to disposing of medical waste. For more information, look at State Disposal Laws.