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Safe Community Needle Disposal

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

Content Verified on: April 22, 2003


Summary

Regulatory Environment

  • The Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control, Division of Air & Waste Management regulates the management of infectious waste.
  • Syringes used in the home are specifically exempt from Delaware’s infectious waste regulations, and may be disposed of in the trash.

Identified Community-based Disposal Initiatives

  • Community syringes are accepted from the public during scheduled household hazardous waste collection days.

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 Delaware has not developed written guidance on the disposal of household generated syringes.


Solid and Infectious Waste Policies

1. Solid Waste Management Statute

Summary
Establishes authority – The Delaware Statutory Code authorizes the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to create rules for the management of solid waste.

Law
Delaware Statutory Code, Title 7, Part VII, Chapter 60 [Ref 1]

Responsible Agency
Department of Natural Resources
& Environmental Control

Division of Air & Waste Management
Solid & Hazardous Waste Management Branch

2. Solid Waste Regulations

Establishes definition – Sharps (needles and syringes) are classified as a form of infectious waste.

Establishes infectious waste requirements – Infectious waste must be managed as special waste. The regulations establish requirements for the packaging, labeling, storage, treatment, disposal and transport of infectious waste.

Establishes registration and permit requirements – Generators of infectious waste must register with the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control to obtain an Infectious Waste Generator Number. Facilities that treat, store, or dispose of infectious waste must also obtain proper permits from the Department.

Exempts household-generated infectious waste – The regulations specifically exempt waste generated by Delaware households from being managed as infectious waste.

Establishes requirements for packaging sharps – The regulations require all sharps to be contained in leakproof, rigid, puncture-resistant containers with tight lids. When the first sharp is placed into the container, the container should be labeled with the word “SHARPS” and the Biological Hazard Symbol.

Exempts sharps from time limits on storage – Sharps are specifically exempt from time limits on infectious waste storage requirements, provided the sharps are disposed in a container specifically designed for sharps and sealed to prevent leakage when full.

Regulation
Delaware Solid Waste Regulations [Ref 2]

Responsible Agency
Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control
Division of Air & Waste Management
Solid & Hazardous Waste Management Branch


Bloodborne Pathogen Standards

Summary
Federal bloodborne pathogen rule applies – Delaware has not established its own state plan for regulating bloodborne pathogens. Therefore, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards apply.

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
29 CFR Part 1910.1030 [Ref 3]

Responsible Agency
US Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Regional Office (Responsible for administrative activities in Region 3)
Area Office (Responsible for OSHA compliance in Delaware)


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 Delaware’s Laws and Regulations
Community syringe container collection sites are not specifically addressed by Delaware’s solid waste regulations.

According to representatives from the Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (DNREC), a collection site is considered infectious waste generator and therefore comply with the regulations established for infectious waste regulations.

Sites also must obtain state permits and arrainge for the syringe containers to be collected by an infectious waste transporter. A list of 16 infectious waste transporters within the state of Delaware is posted on the Department’s website.

Collection sites may only accept sharps contained in leak-proof, rigid, puncture-resistant containers that are tightly lidded and labeled with the word “SHARPS” and the Biological Hazard Symbol. Collection sites would be required to properly package and label these sharps containers for transport to a treatment facility. The packages must be labeled with contact information for the generator and hauler or the person accepting the package for transport or treatment as well as with the words “Infectious Waste” or “Regulated Medical Waste” and the Biological Hazard Symbol.

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 Delaware’s Laws and Regulations
Sharps container mailback programs are not addressed by Delaware’s solid waste regulations. However, sharps container collection programs are regulated under the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) when syringes are mailed [Ref 4]. 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 5].
  • 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 Delaware’s Laws and Regulations
Delaware’s solid waste regulations specifically exempt households. Therefore, persons who use syringes in the home may dispose of them in the trash.

However, Delaware encourages individuals to put their syringes in rigid, leak-proof containers such as liquid detergent bottles, and to securely tape the container lid before disposing into the regular trash. As another safe disposal option, individuals can also call the Solid Waste Authority to obtain information about Household Hazardous Waste Collection Sites.


How Might Delaware 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 Delaware move toward the goal of “no syringes discarded in the trash or public locations.”


Current Identified Community Syringe Disposal Programs in Delaware Go to Top

The Delaware Solid Waste Authority is responsible for setting policy and making decisions regarding solid waste operations and program planning. It is headed by a seven member Board of Directors appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate to serve a three year term. One function of the Authority is to schedule household hazardous waste collection days four times each year in different counties of the state. Community syringes are accepted from the public for disposal at these events.

Household hazardous waste collection days are advertised by the Authority through news media sources. Information about the program and collection day schedules is also available by contacting the Authority either by telephone or by visiting their website:

Delaware Solid Waste AuthorityLink to a non-CDC site
Telephone: 1-800-404-7080


Responsible Agencies in Delaware

Links below will open in a new browser window.

Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control
Solid & Hazardous Waste Management BranchLink to a non-CDC site
89 Kings Highway
Dover, DE 19901
Telephone: 302/739-3689
Fax: (302) 739-5060
Contact: Zoie Y. Mahar
Telephone: (302) 739-3689
Fax: (302) 739-5060
Email: Zona.Mahar@state.de.us

US Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Region 3
Regional Office
U.S. Department of Labor/OSHA
The Curtis Center-Suite 740 West
170 S. Independence Mall West
Philadelphia, PA 19106-3309
(215) 861-4900
(215) 861-4904 FAX

Area Office
Wilmington Area Office
Mellon Bank Building, Suite 900
919 Market Street
Wilmington, Delaware 19801
(302) 573-6518
(302) 573-6532 FAX


References

Links below will open in a new browser window.

1. Delaware Statutory Code, Title 7 [Conservation], Part VII [Natural Resources], Chapter 60 [Environmental Control], Subchapter 2 [Powers and Duties of Secretary and Department]Link to a non-CDC site [Click on “Delaware Code”, scroll to and click on “Title 7”, scroll to and click on “Part VII”, scroll to and click on “Chapter 60”, and scroll to and click on “Subchapter 2”]

2. Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Division of Air and Waste Management, Solid Waste Regulations, Section 11 [Special Wastes Management], Part 1 [Infectious Waste]Link to a non-CDC site [Click on “Section 11”]

3. OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen StandardsLink to a non-CDC site – 29 CFR Part 1910.1030.

4. USPS Domestic Mail ManualLink to a non-CDC site [Click on “DMM Subject Index” then scroll to and click on “Sharps, CO23.85”]

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



Disclaimer

The materials provided on this web site are for general information purposes only. They do not constitute legal or policy advice or opinion. Access to these materials, their transmission, or receipt is not privileged and does not create any relationship with the provider.

CDC has attempted to make the information in this website accurate. However, CDC makes no guarantees about the accuracy, currency, or completeness of the information provided. We are not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for results obtained from the use of the information. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a professional should be sought.

This CDC Web site is no longer being reviewed or updated and thus is no longer kept current. This site remains to assist researchers or others needing historical content.

   
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