Special Treatment Considerations: Sharps

As if medical waste disposal waste wasn’t complicated enough in general terms, there are specific issues associated with different types of waste that require special consideration. Sharps, a category of medical waste that describes any item that can penetrate skin (most commonly hypodermic needles and syringes) are one such piece of the hazardous materials waste stream.

Sharps are especially hazardous because of their high general and occupational health risk, and are generated in both home and healthcare settings. The possibility of potential injuries or “accidental sticks” is very serious, as contaminated sharps can transmit infections and diseases, such as Staphylococcus aureus or HIV and hepatitis. For this reason, their proper management and disposal is of vital importance.

When it comes to management, most concern is focused on the packaging of used sharps. Remember that sharps should always be disposed of in leak-proof, impermeable plastic containers with tight lids. Segregation of sharps from other regulated medical waste is essential, and separate collection and management without compaction is ideal.
Sharps Container
Good sharps management and practices can also be facilitated through education for health-care and refuse professionals, as well as the general public. There are a number of options available (and continuing to emerge) that reduce the extreme health risk of sharps, such as the retractable “safety syringe”, or auto disable syringes. These syringes can be costly and are typically restricted to the high-risk areas of health-care, but researching your options is always a worthwhile endeavor.

Beyond management, the selected disposal or treatment method for sharps also warrants special attention and considerations. Sharps are most commonly disposed of in an autoclave (learn more about the autoclave process – and other treatment methods – here), but that’s not your only choice.

You can also consider:

1.) Mechanical/Chemical treatment:

Grinding, clipping and other practices are no longer used for sharps disposal because of the extraordinary potential for worker injury. New techniques have appeared, however, such as chemical treatment and shredding of sharps.

2.) Encapsulation method:

In this process, sharps are deposited inside of a mold. When full, the mold is charged with plastic and one of several reactants. The mold is then heated while rotated bi-axially. The heat simultaneously sterilizes the waste and causes the charging materials to expand and envelop the waste, encapsulating it. This material can then be disposed of as solid waste without risk to the workers handling it. Unfortunately, this system can be expensive – approximately four to five times higher than the cost of comparable containers for sharps. As such, it is generally an impractical solution for high-volume generators.

3.) Mail-back shipment method:

This is an increasingly common practice, and allows medical waste generators to ship sharps waste to a disposal facility directly through US mail, in specially designed and approved shipping containers. Sharps are one of the few types of waste that shipping companies will accept because they are rendered noninfectious prior to shipment.

4.) Truck service:

This system involves skilled and trained professionals collecting your sharps waste and hauling it away by truck to a designated destruction facility.

As always, Medical Waste Experts can assist you with any of your medical waste disposal or hazardous waste removal challenges. For more information, give us a call today at 877-977-6518.

(This article was originally featured on the Hazardous Waste Experts blog.)

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