What Is a Sharps Container? Sharps Waste Disposal Guide

Have you ever wondered what happens to the needles used in hospitals and other healthcare institutions? Needles are just one example of sharps, which pose a serious risk of injury if not managed properly.

In this guide, we will explore what sharps are, examples of sharps, how they should be disposed of, and the importance of using sharps containers to minimize the risk of harm. Whether you’re a healthcare worker, a patient who uses needles at home, or just curious about medical waste disposal, this guide will provide valuable insights into the safe handling and disposal of sharps.

And if you’re in charge of the medical waste disposal for your health institution, find ways to save money at the very bottom!

What Are Sharps?

Sharps is an umbrella term for medical devices used for various healthcare needs that have dangerous and sharp points or edges. They are designed with these sharp edges or points in order to facilitate medical tasks such as drawing blood, administering medications, or performing surgeries. Sharps are essential tools for many medical procedures and medications. However, they do pose a serious risk to healthcare workers, patients, and others.

For this reason, medical sharps must be handled and disposed of in a specific manner to avoid injury and the spread of infection. There are certain regulations regarding the proper process for the disposal of sharps at hospitals or other medical laboratories. Sharps can be infectious, radioactive, or non-infectious. However, universal precautions should be taken for all types.

Examples of Sharps

The most well-known and obvious example of sharps is hypodermic needles. Many people have health issues that require injections daily. There are other medical instruments that are also considered sharps and need to be disposed of properly.

  • Needles and syringes: Needles used to draw blood or inject medication under the skin as well as the syringe that is attached to the needle and holds medication or bodily fluid, are both considered sharps.
  • Scalpels: These surgical knives are used to make precise incisions during medical procedures.
  • Lancets: Small sharp instruments used to prick the skin for blood testing, often used with diabetic patients.
  • Razor blades: Used to remove the hair before medical procedures, these types of blades are also considered sharps.
  • Broken glass: Broken glass that has been contaminated with biological materials or can puncture the skin and is considered a sharp.
  • Metal wires: Wires used during surgeries or dental procedures should be disposed of properly.
  • Any other sharp item: Any item that you may find in a hospital setting that could be infectious and has a risk of puncturing or slicing the skin is considered a sharp as well.

Is Any Medical Instrument Considered a Sharp?

With so many examples, many people assume that any medical instrument can be considered a sharp. However, this isn’t necessarily true. The term sharps is specifically reserved for objects that can lacerate or puncture the skin. These items typically come into contact with bodily fluid, rendering them biohazardous or infectious waste.

There are other types of hazardous medical waste that are produced at health organizations as well. For example, pathological waste includes human tissues, and radioactive waste comes from items used during chemotherapy. While these other items also require a specific removal process, the procedures vary from sharps waste management.

How Is a Used Sharp Disposed Of?

The first step in disposing of used sharps is placing them immediately into a sharps container. From there, consumers or health organizations have a few options to dispose of them. Typically, health institutions will work with a medical waste disposal company that will collect the sharps containers and dispose of them according to local, state, and federal regulations.

For household use, some cities have drop boxes where residents can dispose of sharps. Other options include mail-back programs, where customers send full sharps containers and get empty ones for future use in return.

What Is a Sharps Container?

A sharps container is a specially designed container that is used for the safe and proper disposal of medical sharps waste. Sharps containers are made of puncture-resistant materials such as hard plastic and are designed to prevent accidental needle sticks or other injuries to healthcare workers or waste handlers. They come in different sizes and shapes, ranging from small containers for personal use to larger containers for healthcare facilities.

Sharps Container Regulations

In the United States, sharps container regulations are put into place by the FDA. It is recommended that both healthcare institutions and patients using needles at home follow the FDA guidelines for sharps containers.

FDA-cleared sharps containers should be made from rigid plastic and include an indicator line that shows when the container is full. They typically come in yellow, with a bright red biohazard label. These can be acquired from pharmacies, healthcare providers, and medical supply companies. Sharps containers come in many shapes and sizes, including small ones for travel or use outside the house.

While healthcare facilities should always have specifically designed, FDA-cleared sharps containers, sometimes these containers aren’t readily available for at-home use. In this case, it’s possible to use a heavy-duty plastic container you may find around the house as an alternative. Each sharps container should have a tight-fitting and puncture-proof lid that doesn’t allow sharps to come out, be leak-proof, and remain upright during use. A common example is a plastic laundry detergent bottle.

What Goes in a Sharps Container?

Sharps containers are designed to safely contain and dispose of used needles, syringes, and other sharp objects that could cause injury or infection if improperly handled. Our list of examples of sharps is a great place to start, but there may be other items that belong in a sharps container as well. For example, infusion sets are used to deliver drugs intravenously through tubing systems that contain needles. Since they also have a needle, they belong in a sharps container.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that any contaminated object that may puncture the skin should be treated as sharps. While this is an easy distinction at home, in a healthcare setting, it’s best to err on the side of caution if you are not sure whether a sharp object has come into contact with bodily fluid or not.

What Should Not Be Placed in a Sharps Container?

Sharps containers should not be used for any other types of medical waste, such as gloves, gowns, bandages, or other disposable items. This can not only cause sharps containers to be filled up too quickly but can also cause problems during the waste removal stage.

Proper handling and disposal of sharps waste is critical to preventing the spread of infection and protecting public health and the environment, and properly sorting medical waste is the first step.

How to Properly Use a Sharps Container

It is important to follow proper procedures for handling and disposing of sharps to minimize the risk of injury and infection transmission. While the process isn’t complicated, it’s important that everyone follows the guidelines at each step of the process.

  1. At the hospital: When disposing of sharps waste, the sharps are placed into the container immediately after use, and the lid is securely closed to prevent spillage or release of contents. It’s imperative not to overfill a sharps container, as this can increase the risk of injury.
  2. Emptying the containers: Sharps containers should be emptied when they are around three-quarters of the way full. But who should empty a designated sharps container? Only professional medical disposal companies should handle this process.
  3. Proper disposal: Once the container is full, it is sealed and labeled according to regulations and then disposed of according to local guidelines for medical waste disposal. These guidelines may vary based on where you live or where the healthcare facility is located.

What Happens to Sharps Waste?

Once sharp containers are removed by a third party or mailed back to the manufacturer or waste company for proper disposal, they eventually end up at a medical waste management facility. Sharps must first be neutralized so that they no longer contain infectious agents. The most common method is autoclaving, where high temperature and pressure steam disinfects the sharps. Once they are decontaminated, they can be sent to a landfill.

Sharps that may also have come in contact with chemotherapy medicine must be incinerated. During incineration, high temperatures are used to destroy any infectious agents and reduce the volume of waste.

How to Save On Your Sharps Disposal Program

Because the medical waste disposal industry is highly regulated and requires specific equipment and protocols, it’s not a cheap expense for healthcare organizations. If you are in charge of medical waste disposal for your health institution or if you use sharps at home, there are a few ways to save money on sharps disposal programs:

Audit Your Waste Company

The best way to save money on sharps disposal is to audit your medical waste disposal company. P3 Cost Analysts specializes in waste and recycling audit services, and we can make sure you’re using the most cost-effective solutions, not being overcharged, and help you renegotiate contracts for the best terms.

Consolidate Your Waste

By consolidating your medical waste, including sharps, you can reduce the number of pick-ups required, ultimately reducing the cost of disposal. You can use larger sharps containers to collect and store more waste before disposal.

Use Reusable Containers

Instead of single-use sharps containers, consider using reusable containers that can be sterilized and used again. This can help reduce the cost of purchasing disposable containers.

Train Staff on Proper Disposal

Proper training and education on the safe and proper disposal of sharps can help reduce the risk of accidental needle sticks and other injuries, ultimately reducing the cost of related healthcare expenses.

Cut Down on Sharps Waste Costs Today

Proper disposal of sharps in sharps containers is crucial as they play a vital role in minimizing the risk of harm caused by used medical devices. If you are in charge of medical waste disposal, ensuring that your health institution follows the guidelines for what goes in a sharps container is important.

If you need assistance in getting your medical waste disposal costs under control, contact P3 Cost Analysts today to find ways to save money while maintaining safety and compliance.

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