How to safely and properly dispose of used lancets, syringes, needles, and other diabetic supplies
There are currently more than 34 million people in the United States living with diabetes. That's a large percentage of the population and this number continues to be on the rise with roughly another 1.5 million people being diagnosed with the disease each year. While different people manage and treat their diabetes in different ways, virtually all diabetics are required to test their blood sugar daily. Most diabetics still do this using a standard glucose meter.
Testing blood sugar using a glucose meter is a relatively painless process that includes pricking the tip of a finger with a sharp device called a lancet, placing a drop of blood on a diabetic test strip, and inserting the test strip into a compatible glucose meter. The glucose meter then measures blood sugar by converting the small blood sample into an electrical current.
Additionally, many people with diabetes require medication, most notably, insulin which is usually injected into the tissue just beneath the skin using an insulin syringe or a pen and pen needle. Another mode of insulin delivery is an insulin pump along with a compatible infusion set.
These are all viable methods of treating diabetes, however, they also end up creating some biohazardous waste, including “sharps” such as lancets, syringe needles and pen needles that must be disposed of safely. Unfortunately, according to a 2018 study presented by the American Diabetes Association
(ADA), only about 59% of the individuals surveyed disposed of their used diabetic sharps properly.
The importance of disposing of diabetic “sharps” properly.
Syringe needles, pen needles and lancets pose many hazards if not disposed of properly. For instance, imagine a member of your local waste disposal team grabbing a plastic garbage bag you placed outside on trash day only to find that a used (which essentially means contaminated) lancet has punctured the bag and now penetrated his or her skin.
Has the lancet been contaminated by other things in your garbage? Does your blood pose a threat due to a virus or other medical condition that you've now exposed this unsuspecting individual to contracting? We've used lancets as an example here, but it could just as easily be a pen needle or insulin syringe.
Diabetic sharps pose a risk to anyone who accidentally meets them, including family members or good friends you might be living with in the same house or apartment.
Never leave opened sharps lying around. Not on the bathroom vanity, not on a dresser or countertop, and don’t toss your used sharps in the regular trash. This is a recipe for disaster that could very well cause someone you care about to get seriously hurt or become ill.
So, what do you do?
Puncture-proof sharps container
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several puncture-proof sharps containers for diabetic and other biohazardous waste. You should be able to pick one up at your local pharmacy, medical supply company, or even from your diabetes healthcare provider. However, if this proves difficult or too costly, you can use any sealable and puncture-proof container, such as a heavy-duty plastic bottle or non-clear metal jar if it has a tight-fitting lid. The key is you want a container that can't be pierced by syringe needles, pen needles, or lancets. Here are a few tips to doing sharps right:
- If it doesn't already have one printed on it, it's important to clearly label your sharps container to prevent people from accidentally sticking their hands into the container.
- Always make sure to use a non-clear container. Clear containers can cause children to be curious or drug users to try to get at your syringes. Neither scenario is likely to end well.
- Never overfill your sharps container. You never want to reach the point where needles or lancets are sticking out of the top. A good best practice is to stop adding sharps once the container is about three-quarters of the way full. This gives you a safe margin of error, providing plenty of space to seal the lid tightly.
- Once your sharps container has reached capacity, make sure the lid is tightly sealed. Then, as an added precaution, wrap duct tape around the lid for added protection.
Disposing of your full sharp’s container
This is where things can get a little tricky. While you should never add your full and sealed sharps container to the recycling bin or the normal trash, how it should be disposed of depends entirely on the rules, regulations, and procedures regarding hazardous waste where you live.
Many cities and municipalities have hazardous waste collection stations and you’re likely to find a list of approved locations by contacting your local health department. These drop-off sites are typically found at police stations, fire houses, hospitals, pharmacies, and health clinics. You can also ask your diabetes physician who will surely know the drop off sites and disposal protocol in your community.
Some communities even have trained individuals who will pick up sharps containers from your home at designated dates and times. In other communities, you’re required to call and schedule a sharps container pickup.
The way sharps containers are disposed of differs across the country. So, to make it a little easier to locate and obtain information about disposal sites in your area, we’ve included a link to this handy online sharps locator and guide.
What about those used test strips?
Once used, diabetic test strips are contaminated with blood and are considered hazardous waste. Therefore, they should never be commingled with the regular trash. In fact, most people dispose of used test strips directly in their sharps container along with their used lancets and needles. Others prefer to collect used test strips in a sealed plastic bag and then place the full bag in their sharps container for disposal.
What about insulin pumps and infusion sets?
If you administer insulin using an insulin pump and infusion sets, you're still going to create some medical waste. In fact, most infusion sets include a plastic pod or other attachment with the insulin needle built into it. These should be disposed of in a sharps container. The one downside is that these bigger and bulkier devices take up more room and will cause your container to fill up quicker. Insulin pumps also require reservoirs to hold the insulin. Once emptied, these reservoirs are considered medical waste and should be deposed of in accordance with regulations in your area. However, because there are no needles in this equipment you are not required to use a sharps container.
Diabetes waste while traveling
Just because you're on vacation or away on business doesn't mean your diabetes safety protocol should take a break. One good tip is to carry a travel-sized sharps container with you when you're on the road. The reality is you're probably not going to have time to find a local disposal station during your travels, but this way you can safely carry your used diabetic supplies with you and then properly dispose of them when you return home.
Don't get complacent
If you're living with diabetes, you know that testing your blood sugar each day can get a little tedious. Depending on your condition, you might go through multiple lancets, diabetic test strips, syringes or pen needles each day. It's only natural to now and then be tempted to simply toss those used supplies in with your other trash. Please don't do this. It really is a matter of public safety and the safety of those around you to always make the effort to dispose of your diabetic waste properly.
We hope you found this post helpful in understanding the importance of proper diabetic waste disposal. At Diabetic Warehouse, we’re proud to keep you informed with the latest news and tips on living with diabetes. We’re also committed to saving you up to 65% on doctor-recommended diabetic supplies. Shop our huge online selection of glucose meters, test strips and lancets, insulin syringes, pen needles, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) systems, and infusion sets by leading manufacturers, such as Accu-Chek, One Touch, FreeStyle, Dexcom, Easy Comfort, and True Metrix. Enjoy free delivery to your home or office with every order. See what our satisfied customers have to say and get started now at diabeticwarehouse.org.
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