Sharps waste disposal: a how-to guide


By definition, sharps waste is a kind of (bio)medical waste that includes any kind of tool or object that is able to puncture or cut the skin, hence the term “sharps”. It should be noted that they are classified as biohazardous medical waste, and therefore can be harmful to both humans and animals. As such, it should come as no surprise that they must be handled very carefully. Even autoclaving isn't enough on its own to treat such a hazardous type of biomedical waste, which is why you're going to need a machine that not only sterilizes the waste but also shreds it. Read on, and we'll tell you all you need to know about sharps waste disposal!

The most common examples of sharps waste include:

  • Hypothermic and blunted needles, syringes
  • Disposable blades, scalpels, razors
  • Broken and/or contaminated glass
  • Microscope slides
  • Certain medical tubes
  • Some plastics

This is why the treatment of sharps waste is so important – never take its disposal lightly!

The reason why sharps are such a hazardous kind of medical waste is that aside from being able to pierce or cut the skin, they can also become easy carriers for different infectious pathogens. This combination makes them especially dangerous to basically everyone. They are one of the most dangerous types of biomedical waste in the whole of the healthcare industry, and such, their safe disposal is one of the most important factors medical facilities have to consider if they work with any kind of sharps.

As you might have guessed, the biggest source for sharps waste comes from the billions of injections that are given to patients each year. Unfortunately, much of this simply cannot be avoided, as vaccinations play a vital part in preventing and curing a lot of diseases.

However, many of the infections (HIV, hepatitis, and other bacterial infections) come from the improper handling of sharps waste, and the reuse of syringes. Even mistakes that may seem trivial in the beginning can lead to infection, such as the use of improper containers. Sharps can easily pass through a lot of trash bags, and could even infect the person carrying it!

Since even autoclaving isn’t always enough to treat waste like sharps, its management and disposal requires the most advanced equipment you can find, which we will describe in more detail in the following paragraphs.

Sharps waste disposal in a two-step process

To properly dispose of this type of medical waste, these are the steps you should pay attention to:

Step 1: Place each kind of sharps waste in the correct disposal container IMMEDIATELY after use

Sharps containers are made of hard plastic and are either disposed along with the waste inside them or in some cases sterilized and reused after the waste disposal process. In North America, their color is red but is almost always yellow everywhere else. It is imperative to never force or push the needles inside the container, as you risk damaging the container, or even worse, injure and contaminate yourself. To avoid such risks, it is best to dispose of the container when it is already 75% full.

Step 2: Dispose of the used sharps containers

How exactly? You may check the community guidelines that apply to the place where you live, and contact a local trash removal service or health department. If you really want to save a lot of time and effort (not to mention dispose of sharps in the safest way possible),you can contact a waste disposal company. The latter option is especially more useful for hospitals, other medical facilities, and any business that generates a huge amount of sharps waste.

The used sharps disposal method can also depend on whether the produced waste can be classified as hazardous or not. Since non-hazardous sharps waste isn’t as dangerous, one may choose from a lot more waste removal options. Waste management companies usually make use of autoclaves (pressure chambers that use steam and elevated temperature to sterilize most medical equipment),or HTI (high-temperature incineration). The former is an excellent method in the case of non-hazardous material, although open flame incineration could prove safer to avoid the risk of sharps waste that wasn’t properly segregated. To avoid any kind of biohazard related harm to the environment, HTI can be an ideal method to ensure the complete extermination of hazardous sharps waste, although it is important to know that even more modern solutions exist nowadays. Just Celitron's ISS (Integrated Sterilizer and Shredder),whose benefits we will soon describe!

In the case of households, the following disposal methods can be used (although they can vary depending on the country you live in):

  • Public household waste collection sites: these also tend to accept hazardous waste.
  • Supervised collection sites: pharmacies, hospitals, pharmacies, doctors’ offices, health departments, police or fire stations.
  • Special waste disposal services: fee-based service using trained waste handlers.
  • Mail-back programs: fee-based mail service with specific requirements on how sharps containers can be sent. 

So what is the best way to handle sharps waste disposal?

While incineration certainly used to be the most popular way to completely destroy sharps waste, there is a much more practical, and environmentally friendly solution available: this is Celitron's Integrated Sterilizer and Shredder! It combines the processes of steam sterilization and shredding into one single vessel, and can easily handle sharps waste disposal on-site. It is also fully automatic: even the door of the machine opens and closes by itself. One of its most notable benefit compared to incineration, is that it emits zero harmful substances, making it one of the best solutions available on the market to treat and dispose of medical sharps in a sustainable way. Not to mention it can also reduce the volume of your sharps waste by 80%, making it much easier to dispose of.

If you've never tried your luck with a medical waste shredder, or want to learn more about how your medical facility can benefit from such a machine, you should definitely take a closer look at the ISS!

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