Disposal of Needles and Syringes

Proper disposal of sharps is crucial to protect the health and safety of everyone who comes into contact with trash, including residents transporting trash to the Town’s facilities, other residents while they are at the facilities, and Town workers, as well as workers at SEMASS, which is the facility where Plymouth’s trash goes for disposal.

In order to properly dispose of sharps, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) recommends use of sharps containers.

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacy if they have a takeback program, which may be free of charge
  • Containers are also available at medical supply stores or by mail-order
  • Mail-back sharps containers are available through Medasend (800-200-3581), Stericycle (800-355-8773), and MWDC (800-810-3000)  

In addition, MDPH lists drop-off disposal sites, as well as other safety information concerning medical waste, on their website at http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/. One of the many sites listed is located in Plymouth.  Plymouth Family Planning accepts sharps from the public at no charge (123-1 Camelot Drive, 508-746-8353).
Each year more than 3 billion sharps are used by 8 million people to administer medications for themselves and their pets at home.  The ability to treat such conditions as diabetes, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis at home is invaluable, however, the waste generated must be disposed of properly and safely.

At-home sharps users and their families can be at risk for needle sticks from the time the sharps are placed in the trash until the trash is placed in the compactor at the transfer station.  Transfer station workers, as well as the public, are also at risk. When attendants change out an empty trash container for a full one, some trash usually falls out of the container.  They clean the area by hand before the empty container is put in place.  Even if sharps had been placed in a sealed plastic bottle, bottles are routinely broken open when the trash is compacted.  Trash bags can also be broken open during compaction, which can cause sharps to fall on the ground.

When the trash is brought to the SEMASS facility for disposal, sharps pose a danger to the staff there as well.  State regulations require SEMASS to conduct daily spot inspections by opening bags by hand and looking for materials banned from disposal, such as recyclable paper and containers.  Sharps can get stuck in vehicle tracks and shredder equipment, which can then harm equipment maintenance workers.

Staff that get stuck by sharps risk contracting life-threatening diseases such as HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis.  Because the source of the sharps is unknown, all needle-stick injuries must be treated as if the needle were infected with disease.  Victims must undergo months of testing, disease prevention measures, and counseling, even if no infection was spread.

Formerly the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended placing sharps in an empty plastic container with a screw cap, such as a laundry detergent bottle, and disposing with trash.  However, because plastic containers are regularly broken during trash compaction, the EPA guidelines revised their recommendation.  More information can be found at www.epa.gov/osw.

State regulations promulgated by MDPH (105 CMR 480.125) will prohibit disposal of sharps in household waste, effective July 1, 2010.  This regulation requires that sharps used at home be disposed of safely and securely through a mail-back program or at an approved sharps collection center, which may be established at medical facilities, pharmacies, and some municipal buildings.

Additional information about safe disposal of sharps and other medical waste can be found at www.safeneedledisposal.org and www.earth911.org.