FDA: Used Sharps Don't Belong in the Trash

Nov 9, 2011, 8:11 PM, Posted by


Q: How many "sharps," (needles, lancets, syringes and other sharp objects) are used and thrown away by Americans each year?

A: 7.8 billion.

The number—from the Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal, a non-profit group that includes government agencies, professional associations and businesses—is so large, and the danger from accidental infection so great, that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched a new website for patients and caregivers on safe disposal of sharps used at home, at work and while traveling.

According to the FDA, used sharps often end up in home and public trash bins or flushed down toilets, where they pose many risks including infecting others with viruses such as Hepatitis B and C and HIV.

The FDA offers this DO NOT list for sharps:

  • Don’t throw loose sharps into the trash.
  • Don’t flush sharps down the toilet.
  • Don’t put sharps in a recycling bin; they are not recyclable.
  • Don’t try to remove, bend, break or recap sharps used by another person.
  • Don’t attempt to remove a needle without a needle clipper device.

“Safe disposal of used needles and other sharps is a public health priority,” said Jeffrey Shuren, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “This website provides information about how to keep used sharps from ending up in places where they could harm people.”

The use of sharps has increased in recent years because of the increase in chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, allergies, arthritis and HIV, that require self-management at home, according to the FDA.

Community solutions to safe sharps disposal varies:

  • In Mississippi, people can use pharmacies as drop-off points in most counties.
  • Florida has established drop-off points in two-thirds of the state’s counties including fire stations, pharmacies, hospitals and public health departments.
  • New Jersey’s public health department has established drop-off sites at hospitals in all but one county.
  • In New York, by law all nursing homes and hospitals must accept sharps from community members.

Additional resources include:

  • This map from the Coalition for Safe Needle Disposal shows sharps disposal rules in all fifty states.
  • Many pharmaceutical companies offer free used-sharp returns programs for their patients

Headed on a road trip? A growing number of rest stops have sharps disposal containers in the rest rooms.


This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.