Medical Waste

Sharps (Syringe Needles) & Medical Waste

Commercially generated medical waste must be disposed of by a properly licensed commercial waste disposal company.

Home-Generated Medical Waste

Home-generated medical waste is medical waste created through the administration of injectable medications and other invasive or noninvasive procedures. It includes, but is not limited to, syringes, needles with attached tubing, and other materials. The most common type of home-generated medical waste is needles and syringes. It does not include medical waste produced by home health care workers (physicians, nurses, home health aides, etc.).

Home-generated medical waste is a potential threat because the disposal of home-generated medical waste is not regulated. Additionally, there can be a significant potential hazard to many persons including family members, sanitation workers, and people in the community. Finally, home-generated waste can pose a threat to the environment. Sometimes people flush used syringes down their toilets. Because these syringes are light-weight and float, they are difficult to remove at the wastewater treatment plant. Often these "floatables" end up in rivers, along river banks, the ocean and on beaches. This was the case in 1987 and 1988, when numerous syringes were found on the beaches of Rhode Island.

Steps for Disposal

  • Rigid Container: Use a container with a screw-on cap such as an empty laundry detergent bottle, bleach bottle, or 2-liter soda bottle. The bottles must be able to be marked with a warning label using a felt-tipped marking pen. Note that the heavier duty laundry detergent and bleach bottles are preferred to the soda bottle.
  • Label / Warning: Place a large label with a warning on the container. Caution! Do not recycle syringes or needles!
  • Clip the needle, or recap discarded sharps: Clip the needle if you wish. You can purchase an inexpensive hand-held needle clipper at a pharmacy. After clipping the needle, carefully place each of the used needles and syringes into the plastic bottle with the screw-on lid. An alternative is to also recap or re-sheathe the needle.
  • Seal: After the container is full, seal the bottle with the original cap and wrap tape over the cap.
  • Disposal: Dispose of the sealed, full container with your household trash. Do not place the container in the recycling bin.
See DEQ poster for illustration of these instructions.

Medical Care Workers In Your Home

What about medical waste generated by medical care workers in your home? Medical waste produced by health care workers (physicians, nurses, home health aides, etc.) as a result of providing medical care in the home is not home generated medical waste. It is regulated medical waste (RMW) and must be disposed of by a licensed RMW disposal company. The responsibility for the proper and safe disposal of regulated medical waste rests with the health care provider providing services in the home.