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Safe Community Needle Disposal

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

Content Verified on: March 9, 2003


Summary

Regulatory Environment

  • The Utah Solid and Hazardous Waste Control Board regulates the management of infectious waste.
  • Utah exempts anyone generating 200 pounds or less of infectious waste per month from the infectious waste requirements.

Identified Community-based Disposal Initiatives

  • No syringe disposal programs were identified in Utah, but that does not mean that no such programs operate in the state.

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 Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste, Solid Waste Section provides guidance, entitled "Infectious Waste Management,"PDF IconLink to a non-CDC site that explains how Utah's regulations apply to large and small facilities that generate potentially infectious biomedical waste, including used syringes.

"Infectious Waste Management" provides the following guidance for individuals who use syringes during home health care:

Infectious waste generated by home health care activities is not regulated by the state. Local health departments may have rules that differ from state rules. Please contact them for specific rules. However, the following procedures should be followed to minimize the potential risk from exposure to infectious waste.

  • Isolate sharps in leak-proof, rigid, puncture-resistant containers such as a plastic soft drink bottle, a plastic milk bottle, or a sharps container commercially available at many pharmacies.
  • When the container is full of sharps, the lid should be tightly secured and taped on. The sharps container may then be placed in the regular household waste container for curbside collection.

 

Solid and Infectious Waste Policies

1. Solid and Hazardous Waste Laws

Summary
Establishes authority – The law provides, the authority to write infectious waste rules to the Solid and Hazardous Waste Control Board.

Law
Chapter 6 of Utah Codes, Title 19 [Ref 1]

2. Infectious Waste Requirements

Summary
Classifies sharps – “Sharps” (hypodermic needles and syringes) are classified as infectious waste.

Establishes infectious waste management regulations – The Infectious Waste Requirements provide standards for the storing, containing, transporting, treating, and disposing of infectious waste, as well as general operational requirements for facilities that handle such waste.

Establishes specific containment requirements for sharps – Sharps must be contained in leak-proof, puncture-resistant containers that are taped closed or tightly lidded before storage, transport, treatment, or disposal.

Exempts small volume infectious waste generators – The Utah infectious waste requirements apply only to health facilities generating more than 200 pounds of infectious waste per month. Those generating 200 pounds or less of infectious waste per month, such as small health care facilities or individual syringe users, are exempt from the infectious waste rule requirements.

Law
Section R315-316 of the Solid Waste Rules, Title 315 [Ref 2]

Responsible Agency
Utah Department of Environmental Quality
Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste
Solid Waste Section
Planning/Solid Waste BranchLink to a non-CDC site


Bloodborne Pathogen Standards

Summary
Adopts federal bloodborne pathogen rule – Utah’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
29 CFR Part 1910.1030 [Ref 3]

Responsible Agency
Labor Commission of Utah


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 Utah’s Laws and Regulations on Container Collection Sites
Anyone generating 200 pounds or less of infectious waste per month is exempt from Utah's infectious waste requirements. Therefore, community syringe users are exempt from state standards and may dispose of their syringes in the trash. However, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality warns that local restrictions may apply, and therefore recommends that small volume generators contact their local health department to determine the existence of any local restrictions.

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 Utah’s Laws and Regulations on Container Mailback Programs
Sharps container mailback programs are not addressed by Utah’s infectious 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 Utah’s Laws and Regulations on Disposal in the Trash
Because individuals using syringes at home are exempt from Utah’s infectious waste requirements, they may dispose of their syringes in the trash. However, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality warns that other restrictions may apply, and therefore recommends that individuasl and small volume generators contact their local health department to determine the existence of any local restrictions.


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

The state legislature and individual communities may wish to 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 Utah move toward the goal of “no syringes discarded in the trash or public locations.”


Current Identified Community Syringe Disposal Programs in Utah Go to Top

No syringe disposal programs were identified in Utah, but that does not mean that no such programs operate in the state.


Responsible Agencies in Utah

Links below will open in a new browser window.

Utah Department of Environmental QualityLink to a non-CDC site
Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste
Solid Waste Section
Planning/Solid Waste Branch
288 North 1460 West
PO Box 14499
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-4880
Tel: (801) 538-6170
Fax: (801) 538-6715
Contact: Ralph Bohn, Solid Waste Section Manager
Tel: (801) 538-6794
Email: rbohn@utah.gov

Carl Wadsworth
Tel: (801) 538-6765
Email: cwadsworth@utah.gov

Labor Commission of UtahLink to a non-CDC site
160 East 300 South, 3rd Floor
P.O. Box 146650
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-6650
Contact: R. Lee Ellertson, Commissioner
Tel: (801) 530-6901
Fax: (801) 536-7906

Larry Patrick, Administrator
Tel: (801) 530-6898
Fax: (801) 530-6390


References

Links below will open in a new browser window.

1. Utah Code,Link to a non-CDC site Title 19 [Environmental Quality Code], Chapter 06 [Hazardous Substances], Sections 19-6-102 [Definitions] and 19-6-105 [Rules of the Board]

2. Environmental Quality, Title 315 [Solid and Hazardous Waste], R315-316 [Infectious Waste Requirements]PDF IconLink to a non-CDC site

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.



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