Safe and legal disposal of sharps
Disposal of syringes, needles and lancets is regulated. These items are called "sharps." They can carry hepatitis, HIV and other germs that cause disease. Tossing them into the trash or flushing them down the toilet can pose health risks for others. Regulations governing disposal of sharps protect garbage workers and the general public from needle sticks and illness.
There are different rules and disposal options for different circumstances. The main difference is between sharps that are used in a business and those that are used in the home for personal reasons. And, for home users, it makes a difference whether you live in the City of Seattle or if you live in an area of King County outside Seattle. The different regulations and disposal options are explained below.
- How can I dispose of sharps used in my business?
Used sharps generated by a business or commercial enterprise are considered biomedical waste. Safe disposal of all biomedical waste is a cost of doing business and is the responsibility of the business owner. This is true for businesses large and small, for-profit and non-profit. All biomedical waste, including sharps, must be disposed of through a licensed biomedical waste transporter or an approved treatment method.
For more information on disposal options for businesses in King County, see the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program. Business and commercial enterprises include hospitals; research and diagnostic laboratories; nursing homes; hospices; clinics; medical, dental, acupuncture and veterinary practices; pharmacies; and any other business, research, service or educational institution that uses needles, syringes, lancets or other injection equipment.
Business and commercial generators may NOT utilize the options outlined below. The following options are only for people who use sharps within their homes.
- How can I dispose of the needles, syringes or lancets I use at home for personal reasons?
In King County there are options for disposing of sharps generated from personal use. The options differ somewhat depending on whether you live inside or outside Seattle City limits. When properly prepared for disposal, home-generated sharps are exempt from the regulations that govern disposal of commercial biomedical waste. Proper preparation and disposal are important to avoid injury to yourself and others.
The following guidelines apply to sharps you use at home and to needles and syringes you might find around your home.
- If you find a syringe or needle, do not pick it up with your bare hands. Use a glove and tongs, shovel or broom and dustpan to pick it up.
- Always place used sharps and syringes in a safe container. This can be a manufactured sharps container or a 2-liter P.E.T. plastic pop bottle. You can purchase manufactured sharps containers at most pharmacies. Whether you use a sharps container or a pop bottle, make sure the lid fits tightly. Then tape it shut for added safety. If you use a plastic pop bottle, label it with the warning: "SHARPS, DO NOT RECYCLE."
- Do not break the needle off from the syringe. Needles can carry HIV, hepatitis and other germs. If the needle gets broken off from a syringe you have personally used, pull the plunger out of the barrel, put the needle in the barrel, and then replace the plunger. Please, do not flush needles or syringes down the toilet!
- In the City of Seattle, it is illegal to dispose of needles, lancets and syringes in your regular garbage can or recycling container. Put the items in a safe container (as described above), seal it, then take the container to Seattle's North or South Recycling and Disposal Station. Station staff will direct you to the proper disposal area. Only one container is allowed per trip. Your container will not be returned to you. The Recycling and Disposal Stations DO NOT accept loose needles and syringes. There is no charge for this service.
In King County outside Seattle City limits, you may put the items in a 2-liter plastic pop bottle. Make sure the lid fits tightly, then tape it shut for added safety. Put a label on the bottle: "SHARPS, DO NOT RECYCLE." Then put the bottle in your regular garbage. Do not put the bottle in your recycling bin. King County Solid Waste does not accept manufactured sharps containers.
While disposal in regular garbage is legal in King County, it is not peferred. This option poses a risk of puncture injury to waste workers.
Currently two of the disposal sites operated by King County Solid Waste accept household generated sharps. Sharps must be placed in a securely sealed, puncture-proof plastic bottle, as described above. Loose sharps are not accepted. There is no charge for this service.
- Can I return used needles and syringes to my pharmacy or doctor?
Some pharmacies will dispose of used injection supplies for you if they are safely stored in an approved manufactured sharps container. There is usually a fee for this service. Ask your pharmacist if she or he provides this service.
Some health care providers allow patients to return used injection equipment to the provider's office for disposal if it is used for medications they have prescribed. Talk to your doctor or health care provider.
- What about needle exchange?
Needle exchange is a disease prevention program for people who use illegal drugs. It provides new sterile syringes in exchange for used ones. Used syringes are collected from customers at no charge and are safely disposed of as commercial biomedical waste. Needle exchange accepts used sharps and syringes that are loose, as well as used equipment that is stored in containers.
Needle exchange has been successful in keeping the rate of HIV very low among people who inject drugs in King County. It also protects drug users' families, their sexual partners and their children. In addition to exchanging syringes, the program offers screening for HIV, hepatitis and other blood-borne illnesses, treatment for wounds and abscesses, health education information, and assistance to get into drug treatment. Click here for exchange locations in King County, times of operation and other needle exchange information.
- Can I bring used sharps to Public Health Centers?
Only home-generated sharps may be disposed of at Public Health Centers. Some sites have secure outdoor drop boxes that are available 24 hours a day. This service is available at no charge to Public Health Center patients and to people who inject illegal drugs.
Disposal drop boxes are NOT for general medical, dental, veterinary, pharmacy or other commercial or business use.
All commercial and business generators of used sharps and syringes must dispose of them through a licensed biomedical waste transporter or approved treatment method.
- The drop boxes will accept used sharps packaged in safe containers and sharps that are loose. But, it's safer for everybody if you put your sharps and syringes in an approved container, so:
- First: Put your used sharps and syringes in a manufactured sharps container or a 2-liter P.E.T. plastic pop bottle. Make sure the lid fits tightly, then tape it shut for added safety. If you use a plastic pop bottle, label it with the warning: "SHARPS, DO NOT RECYCLE."
- Then: Bring your full container to the drop box site. You are responsible for putting your sharps in the drop box at the site. Your sharps container will not be returned to you.
- If your container is bigger than a 2-liter pop bottle or if the drop box is full, DO NOT cram more stuff into it and DO NOT leave containers or loose syringes sitting out next to the drop box. These practices put others at risk for injury. If your items will not fit in the drop box, please bring them inside to the Health Clinic’s reception desk. If you encounter this problem when the clinic is closed, you may need to return to the clinic and dispose of your sharps during normal business hours in order to assure safety for all.
- Where can I find a syringe drop box?
Syringe drop boxes are available 24 hours a day at the following locations: