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Safe Community Needle Disposal

AlaskaAlaska Public Health Laws and Regulations: Impact on the Safe Disposal of Used Syringes by Individuals in the Community

Content Verified on: April 21,2003


Summary

Regulatory Environment

  • The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation regulates the management of medical waste including syringes.
  • Medical waste must be decontaminated or incinerated before disposal in an approved solid waste landfill.
  • Individuals must ensure that their used syringes are stored in a way that does not cause a health hazard and that the syringes are decontaminated before disposal. This can be done by taking used syringes to a hospital or other site that accepts syrings or by contracting with a medical waste transporter.

Identified Community-based Disposal Initiatives

  • No community-based disposal initiatives have been identified in Alaska, but that does not mean that none operate in the state.
  • The state of Alaska has not developed written guidance on the disposal of household generated syringes.

Introduction

Disposing of contaminated medical waste, including needles, syringes, and other “sharps,” has become an important issue in public health policy. Waste generated in the health care system is highly regulated at the state and federal level. Hospitals and other health care facilities must follow special procedures for handling, transporting, and disposing of medical waste, including used needles that may contain blood. Facilities also have instituted strict safeguards to protect health care workers, housekeeping staff, sanitation workers, and waste haulers from needlesticks because of the risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other bloodborne infections.

Less attention has been paid to safe disposal of used syringes that come from individuals living in the community. However, as many as 3 billion syringes are used each year outside health care facilities: It is estimated that between 0.9 and 1.68 billion insulin injections and up to 1 billion illegal drug injections occur each year in the United States. After being used and discarded, most of these syringes end up in the public solid waste system. This presents a risk of needlestick injury and infection, mostly to solid waste workers. A much smaller number are discarded in public areas, such as parks, presenting a risk to the public.

This section of CDC’s Community Syringe Disposal, Laws and Regulations, and the Public Health web site looks at the public health dimensions of this problem. It describes this state’s solid and infectious waste laws and regulations as they relate to syringe disposal. It provides background information on several key disposal options currently used in the U.S. and describes the impact of this state’s laws and regulations on the way that individuals may use these options. It also includes brief descriptions of some safe disposal programs in the state and provides contact information for the state’s public health and environmental management agencies.

This web site is designed primarily for individuals and communities who are working to build safe syringe disposal programs and improve public understanding of this important issue. We hope that the information and tools provided here will help communities move closer to the ultimate goal of “no syringes discarded in the trash or in public locations such as parks, buildings, or the streets.”


Current Published Guidance for Individuals

The state of Alaska has not developed written guidance on the disposal of household generated syringes.

Solid and Infectious Waste Policies

1. Environmental Conservation Statute

Summary
Establishes rule making authority – The Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation is given the authority to establish solid waste rules.

Law
Chapter 44 and 46 of the Alaska Statue Title 46 [Ref 1]

Responsible Agency
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

2. Solid Waste Management Regulations

Summary
Establishes definition – “Sharps” (hypodermic needles and syringes) are defined as a form of medical waste.

Establishes disposal requirements – Medical waste must be decontaminated or incinerated before disposal in an approved municipal solid waste landfill facility.

Establishes requirements for transfer stations – The regulations have specific standards for solid waste transfer stations designed to hold 20 cubic yards of solid waste or more. Facilities with a smaller storage capacity are not required to meet these standards.

Establishes storage requirements – Solid waste must be stored in a way that does not cause a health hazard.

Law
Chapter 60 of the Alaska Administrative Code Title 18 [Ref 2]

Responsible Agency
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation


Bloodborne Pathogen Standards

Summary
Adopts federal bloodborne pathogen rule – Alaska’s bloodborne pathogen rule was adopted by reference from the federal standard. The state operates its own program under an U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-approved state plan.

Sets requirements for collection sites when employees handle the sharps containers – Operators of sharps container collection sites in which employees physically accept and handle filled sharps containers from customers are required to meet the OSHA bloodborne pathogen standards. This involves developing a written Exposure Control Plan that identifies the frequency of exposure and the tasks and procedures in which exposure may occur. The Plan also must address methods of compliance, hepatitis B vaccination, hazard communication to employees, recordkeeping, and methods to evaluate exposure incidents.

Sets requirements for collection sites when employees do not handle the sharps containers – Operators of sharps container collection sites in which customers place filled sharps containers into a collection container are not subject to the bloodborne pathogen standard. In this situation, employees must not handle the sharps containers. Those involved with removing the sharps containers from the collection container must meet the standard.

Law
(State) Chapter 61 of the Alaska Administrative Code Title 8 [Ref 3]

(Federal) 29 CFR Part 1910.1030 [Ref 4]

Responsible Agency
Alaska Department of Labor


Selected Community Syringe Disposal Options

Container Collection Sites

Background

How This Option Works
An individual brings filled sharps containers to a collection site such as a pharmacy, medical facility (for example, a hospital or public health clinic), or non-medical facility (for example, a fire station) for safe disposal. Other sites have sharps collection drop boxes (a kiosk, mailbox-type receptacle, or other secured collection bin). This is a viable option that can capture many of the syringes generated in the community. Successful syringe container collection programs feature:

  • minimal regulatory constraints placed on collection sites;
  • easy access provided through numerous and well-publicized collection locations; and
  • minimal costs to users through subsidized costs of containers and disposal.

Even if a community does not have collection site programs, an individual may be able to develop an informal relationship with a local pharmacy or other facility that will accept and safely dispose of filled syringe containers.

Advantages and Disadvantages
Sharps container collection programs have two key advantages:

  • Used syringes are kept out of the regular solid waste stream, which reduces the risk of needlestick injuries to waste and recycling workers (see Disposal in the Trash for more information).
  • Syringes collected through these programs are disposed of safely as medical waste. This involves special disinfection to destroy germs and destruction or burial to ensure that the needle points cannot injure anyone.

Facilities and individuals may perceive some disadvantages:

  • Individuals may feel that bringing sharps containers to a collection site is inconvenient and reduces their privacy because it identifies them as a syringe user.
  • Collection sites may have to comply with state bloodborne pathogen standards and medical waste disposal requirements, and they must carefully maintain the collection bins or kiosks.

Effect of Alaska’s Laws and Regulations
The Alaska solid waste management rule does not specifically address sharps container collection sites. The rule specifies standards for solid waste transfer stations designed to hold 20 cubic yards of solid waste or more. Facilities with a smaller storage capacity, such as a community syringe collection site, are not required to meet the requirements specified for the larger transfer stations.

The solid waste management rule requires to be stored in a manner that does not cause a health hazard. Medical waste must be decontaminated or incinerated before disposal in a permitted landfill.

Collection site operators may also be subject to meeting bloodborne pathogen standards, depending on how the sharps containers are collected and handled.

Container Mailback Programs

Background

How This Option Works
Sharps containers are distributed to customers and, when full, are mailed back to a syringe disposal company for safe disposal. This is a viable option that can capture some of the used syringes generated in the community.

Advantages and Disadvantages
Syringe mailback programs have the same advantages as syringe container collection sites:

  • Used syringes are kept out of the regular solid waste stream, which reduces the risk of needlestick injuries to waste and recycling workers (see Disposal in the Trash for more information).
  • Syringes collected through these programs are disposed of safely as medical waste. This involves special disinfection to destroy germs and destruction or burial to ensure that the needle points cannot injure anyone.

The cost of mailing the container to the disposal company varies. The cost may be too high for some individuals, and may be considered a disadvantage.

Effect of Alaska’s Laws and Regulations
Sharps container mailback programs are not addressed by Alaska’s solid waste rule. However, sharps container collection programs are regulated under the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) when syringes are mailed [Ref 5]. The USPS regulations establish specific packaging, labeling, and tracking requirements for these syringes.

Disposal in the Trash

Background

How This Option Works
Individuals place their used syringes in the household trash, either loose or in a puncture-resistant container. Some individuals remove the needle from the syringe and put it in a container using a special device. The syringe and contained needle are then disposed of in the household trash.

Advantages and Disadvantages
The main advantages of this option are convenience and low cost.

This option has one important disadvantage – it places people at risk of being stuck by a needle and increases their chances of contracting a bloodborne infection:

  • Placing unprotected syringes into the household trash puts waste collectors at risk [Ref 6].
  • Placing used needles in a puncture-resistant container may help protect trash collectors from being stuck. Even so, most containers disposed of in the trash shatter in the garbage truck and release their contents. This places other waste workers at risk.
  • Bottles or cans used as puncture-resistant containers may be recycled by mistake. This puts waste recyclers at risk.

Effect of Alaska’s Laws and Regulations
The Alaska solid waste management rule does not provide an exemption to community syringe users for disposing of sharps. Therefore, as written, individuals who use syringes of home are responsible for ensuring that their used syringes are stored in a way that does not cause a health hazard and that they are decontaminated before disposal. This can be done either by taking used syringes to a site such as a hospital or medical center that accepts sharps, or by contracting with a medical waste transporter for proper treatment and disposal.


How Might Alaska Ensure Safe Syringe Disposal by Individuals in the Community?

The state legislature and individual communities may wish to more actively encourage individuals to safely dispose of used syringes and make it easier for them to do so. Many options for state and local action exist. They range from gathering data, to developing community collection site programs and education efforts, to creating partnerships with interested groups, to considering amending laws and regulations. All will help Alaska move toward the goal of “no syringes discarded in the trash or public locations.”


Current Identified Community Syringe Disposal Programs in Alaska Go to Top

No current community syringe collection programs were identified in Alaska. However, this does not mean that no programs operate in the state.


Responsible Agencies in Alaska

Links below will open in a new browser window.

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
Division of Environmental Health
Solid Waste Management
410 Willoughby Avenue, Suite 303
Juneau, Alaska 99801
Telephone: (907) 465-5162
Fax: (907) 465-5164

Contact –
Heather Stockard, Program Manager
Telephone: (907) 465-5162
Fax:(907) 465-5164
Email: heather_stockard@envircon.state.ak.us

Alaska Department of Labor
(Mailing Address)
PO Box 21149
Juneau, Alaska 99801-1149
Telephone: (907) 465-4055
(Physical Location)
1111W/ 8th Street, Room 304
Juneau, Alaska 99801-1149


References

Links below will open in a new browser window.

1. Alaska Statute, Title 46 [Water, Air, Energy, and Environmental Conservation],
Chapter 44.46 [Department of Environmental Conservation] and Chapter 46.03 [Environmental Conservation]

2. Alaska Administrative Code (AAC), Title 18 [Environmental Conservation], Chapter 60 [Solid Waste Management], Article 1 General Standards, Requirements, And Limitations, Section 030 [Medical Waste], Article 8 [General Provisions], Section 990 [Definitions]

3. Alaska Administrative Code (AAC), Title 8 [Labor and Workforce Development], Part 4 [Occupational Safety and Health Division], Chapter 61 [Occupational Safety and Health], Article 11 [Occupational Safety and Health Standards], Section 1010 [Standards]

4. OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standards – 29 CFR Part 1910.1030.

5. USPS Domestic Mail Manual [Click on “DMM Subject Index” then scroll to and click on “Sharps, CO23.85”]

6. Turnberg WL, Frost F. Survey of occupational exposure of waste industry workers to infectious waste in Washington State. American Journal of Public Health 1990;80(10):1262-1264.



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