King County Residents are not allowed to dispose of sharps in the household garbage. The Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal knows of several community sponsored programs in King County and other Washington counties (Snohomish, Pierce, Clark, Okanogan, Cowlitz, Jefferson and Kitsap) that accept sharps from the community. The majority of these collection sites are public health centers in King County. The remaining counties offer collection sites at participating pharmacies and/or solid waste collection centers. To find out what is available in these counties or to see if your county offers residents safe needle disposal options, call the county public health department or the county solid waste division in that county.
If there is not a program in your city/county/town follow the state guideline, which allows patients to place used needles/pen needles, lancets (sharps) in a household container such as a laundry detergent bottle, bleach bottle or other opaque sturdy plastic container with a screw-top lid. When that container is full, you should place it in your regular garbage – not recycling.
Though this is still approved in the state of Washington it is the least desirable way to dispose of used sharps. Please read below for other options you may try before disposing of your container in the household trash
PLEASE NOTE: If you have your sharps in a red sharps container, these containers are typically not permitted in the regular garbage because they are marked BIO HAZARDOUS MATERIAL. Bio hazardous material is not allowed in the household garbage. In this case it’s the actual container that is not permitted – not the sharps.
You may want to ask a healthcare facility (doctor’s office, clinic, nursing home, hospital, fire station) if they would be willing to dispose of your container for you. These facilities are not required to take these containers from the public and often won’t because of the cost they incur to dispose of medical waste (they typically pay by poundage). But it may be worth a try.
Safe disposal options for needles and syringes
Household generated “sharps” include hypodermic needles, syringes, and lancets. They are typically used in the home for insulin injection or for administering medications to treat other chronic diseases such as allergies, arthritis, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis B, and HIV.
Managing and disposing of household generated sharps safely reduces pollution to the environment and prevents injury and disease transmission from needle-sticks.
Never leave needles or syringes on streets, in parks, or anywhere else where they could injure someone.
Store at home
If you have a medical facility that accepts sharps from the community for disposal, either purchase a sharps disposal container from a pharmacy or ask your specialty pharmacy to provide you with a sharps container (these are typically readily available if you receive your medication through the mail).
If disposal sites open to the public are not available in your area, DO NOT use a sharps container. Instead, USE an empty rigid plastic consumer product container with a screw-on lid, such as a laundry detergent bottle.
Do not store used sharps in glass bottles, soda bottles, milk jugs, aluminum cans, or coffee cans.
If you are bringing used sharps to a clinic or hospital collection site or using a mail-back program, follow their requirements, which may include use of a pre-purchased sharps container.
Always keep storage containers for used sharps out of the reach of children.
Disposal of Used Needles
Never place containers with used needles or syringes in a recycling bin.
Never place loose sharps in the garbage.
Do not place sharps in containers with a BIOHAZARD label on the outside of the container in the household garbage. Biohazard material is typically not allowed in household trash. Sharps containers with a Biohazard label are usually treated as medical waste. To find out if your state allows sharps containers in the household trash contact your state waste department for specific regulations on household medical waste.
Clinics and Hospital Collection Sites
Some medical waste facilities such as, clinics, physician offices, EMT stations and hospitals have collection programs for needles, lancets, and syringes for use by their patients at home. If your healthcare provider has a collection program, learn about and follow their instructions for sharps storage and disposal.
DO NOT bring used needles and syringes to your clinic or hospital if they do not accept them.
Disposal Options Available to Washington Residents
Washington state regulators do not provide written recommendations to syringe users for disposing of home-generated sharps (syringes, needles, lancets, etc).
In King County there are options for disposing of sharps generated from personal use. The options differ somewhat depending on whether you live inside or outside Seattle City limits. When properly prepared for disposal, home-generated sharps are exempt from the regulations that govern disposal of commercial biomedical waste. Proper preparation and disposal are important to avoid injury to yourself and others.
The following guidelines apply to sharps you use at home and to needles and syringes you might find around your home.
- If you find a syringe or needle, do not pick it up with your bare hands.Use a glove and tongs, shovel or broom and dustpan to pick it up.
- Alwaysplace used sharps and syringes in a safe container. This can be a manufactured sharps container or a 2-liter P.E.T. plastic pop bottle. You can purchase manufactured sharps containers at most pharmacies. Whether you use a sharps container or a pop bottle, make sure the lid fits tightly. Then tape it shut for added safety. If you use a plastic pop bottle, label it with the warning: "SHARPS, DO NOT RECYCLE."
- Do not break the needle off from the syringe.Needles can carry HIV, hepatitis and other germs. If the needle gets broken off from a syringe you have personally used, pull the plunger out of the barrel, put the needle in the barrel, and then replace the plunger. Please, do not flush needles or syringes down the toilet!
In the City of Seattle, it is illegal to dispose of needles, lancets and syringes in your regular garbage can or recycling container. Put the items in a safe container (as described above), seal it, then take the container to Seattle's North or South Recycling and Disposal Station. Station staff will direct you to the proper disposal area. Only one container is allowed per trip. Your container will not be returned to you. The Recycling and Disposal Stations DO NOT accept loose needles and syringes. There is no charge for this service.
Alternative sites for disposal:
Click on to the following site and scroll to the bottom for a list of syringe drop boxes available 24 hours a day:
For disposal contact your local county public health department and/or solid waste department for proper disposal specific to that county.
Individuals who use syringes at home are responsible for ensuring that their used syringes are stored in a way that does not cause a health hazards. To safely dispose of used sharps in the state of Washington, you may also use one of the options listed below to dispose of used needles, lancets, and syringes.
I. Mail-back Programs
Mail-back disposal programs allow home sharps users to mail used sharps to licensed disposal facilities as a safe disposal option. Such programs charge a fee for this service. Check with your health care provider or pharmacist, or search the yellow pages or Internet using key words “sharps mail-back.”
II. Needle Destruction Devices
Devices or containers with mechanisms that bend, break, incinerate (destroy by high heat), or shear needles are called sharps needle destruction devices.
A destruction device that incinerates needles and lancets can be used at home to destroy needles immediately after use. These small, portable devices use a few seconds of high heat to melt needles and reduce them to BB-size balls. Previously used only in healthcare facilities, these devices are now available in smaller, less expensive models for home use.
Once the needle or lancet is destroyed by heat in a destruction device, the remaining syringe and melted metal should be placed in an approved sharps container and disposed of properly.
A needle cutter that automatically stores the cut needles is also useful while away from home when a disposal container is not available. The remains of the syringe after the needle has been clipped can be placed in either a household container or a sharps container (if there is a site available to drop off the sharps container). When the needle clipper is full, simply place it in the storage container (household or sharps container) and dispose of properly.
III. Legal, but Less Safe
In most counties in Washington (except Seattle residents in King County) it is currently legal to put used sharps that are in a household container with a lid into the garbage.
However, this is highly discouraged because of the injury and health risks it places on garbage hauler and processing facility workers. It is best to use one of the options previously listed for safe management and disposal of used sharps.
NEVER PLACE LOOSE NEEDLES AND SYRINGES IN THE TRASH!
Label container “Do Not Recycle.”
Put sharps in point-first.
Containers more than half-full should be disposed of.
Store sharps in closed container with the cap screwed on.
Although placing household generated sharps in the regular trash may be allowable under state rule, some municipalities prohibit this disposal method. Please check with the local authority to determine if this practice is acceptable in your community. You should contact your county or city waste manager, public health official, sanitary department, or environmental health department.
For more information, contact the Washington State Department of Ecology at www.ecy.wa.gov/ecyhome.html or call (360) 407-6000.