Thousands of syringes, infusion sets, little lancets and sensors have pierced my body in my three decades of living with type 1. But honestly, I have no clue how many of those sharps have been properly disposed of.
I’ll admit: I’m ashamed of how little I’ve followed the official rules on disposing of my used supplies over the years, but lately I’ve been paying more attention to the Dos & Don’ts of sharps disposal — you might say “sharpening my disposal practices,” so to speak!
This is an issue the FDA’s been pushing more over the past couple of years, most notably with a November 2011 awareness campaign that included a website focusing on safe disposal of the pointy medical supplies our D-Community knows so well.
Most recently on Jan. 27, the FDA announced it had teamed up with visual publications firm Kwikpoint in Washington D.C. to create new public learning guides and graphics to help educate us PWDs and our caregivers about sharps disposal. The materials are designed to transcend literacy and language barriers, and hopefully get more people in the know about the proper way to get rid of used medical supplies.
Before checking out the “Be Smart With Sharps” pamphlet, I had no idea that billions of sharps (!) are improperly thrown into the trash or recycling bins each year, or even flushed down toilets, and that’s led to as many as 850,000 people being injured as a result. Yikes! We’re talking sanitation workers, trash collectors, janitors, housekeepers, family members and even children, stumbling on these used sharps. And that contact ups the dangers of spreading scary viruses like Hepatitis B and C or HIV.
Now I feel even worse about how I used to ignore the importance of safe sharps disposal…
Growing up, I have no memory of how we disposed of sharps at home. With my mom and I both being type 1 and going through who knows how many syringes and lancets during my childhood, you have to think that these added up. Of course, sharps containers weren’t as readily available as they are today. My mom tells me that we used metal coffee cans (you know, the kind you saw everywhere in the days before Keurig cups). And back then, labeling wasn’t required or even suggested as it is now.
Still, the coffee cans were better than what I used (or didn’t use) once I was living on my own. Bad habits set in, in that I don’t even recall doing anything special for needles or lancets except for bending or capping the needles in an attempt to ensure they wouldn’t be too likely to stab someone by accident. Nothing much more than that, except during college when I was living in the dorms and actually used a red sharps container that I snagged from the campus clinic. But even that was more out of concern that someone might ask questions about my high-volume needle disposal, so I was thinking more about myself than community protection.
Aside from that 15 years ago, my use of sharps containers has been scattered through the years. I’ve used empty milk and laundry detergent containers without any labeling, and at times have even tossed some random sharps into empty soda cans or bottles and then scrunched the opening so they wouldn’t escape. Nothing on the outside to let others know there were potentially dangerous used medical supplies inside, though.
Not until recently.
After being exposed to more FDA awareness efforts on this during over the last 2 years and all the talk about how glucose meters and even lancets are regulated, I finally started considering this issue more. Heck, if the FDA’s so concerned about potential risks of finger-poking lancets that it’s even exploring reclassifying them (no update on that yet), I decided maybe it was time to take this matter a little more seriously on my own end.
It’s certainly easy enough to find an FDA-approved sharps container with all the proper labeling if you bother looking; I’ve seen several different sharps disposal items just at my local pharmacy for under $10. And I’m assuming that my local doctor or endo, or even one of the hospitals, could probably supply one of these containers for free.
But I really don’t want one of those boring red hazardous-waste-style containers that has pretty much looked the same as it always has. I’d rather have something that looks a little more appealing, and is at least less threatening to non-PWDs. Amy says when she was remodeling her house, she looked high and low for a sharps container that wouldn’t spoil the aesthetic appeal of her pretty newly-tiled bathroom, but to no avail. No company out there seems to be producing a home sharps container that isn’t … well, sort of hideous.
So, I decided to get creative. Thanks to my wife’s and my love for V8 juice, I’ve got a ready supply of nifty clear containers that I can strip of their labels for my own use. These bottles are heavy-duty plastic and aren’t easily destroyed, as the dog’s proven many times when using them as chew-toys. So for sharps disposal, they’re just what the FDA ordered!
On top of that, I’ve been fully FDA compliant by using a piece of tape or even a shipping label to mark the container as “Sharps Biohazard.” Who knows, maybe at some point I’ll add a little Diabetes Art to give it some extra “sharp” style…
The finished bottle sits on the printer in my home office next to the desk, where I’ve got easy access to it and it fits right in since that’s where I keep many of my D-supplies. Once it gets about three-quarters full, I toss it into the recycling bin — without any worry that it will be mistaken for anything other than sharps. And since I’ve done my research, I know that putting this into my recycling bin for curb-side pickup is allowed where I live (it may not be in some places).
Here in Central Indiana, we’ve got an official ordinance on the books that pretty much mirrors the FDA’s recommendations. Actually, Indiana health officials studied this issue several years ago, but the state apparently hasn’t voted to turn that into law yet. Luckily, my local trash and recycling service has options to help with sharps disposal, so that makes it easy for me to have the home front covered!
To check the rules where you live, check out this BD website where you can look up regulations state-by-state, though note that this was last updated in May 2011.
As to traveling, that’s another issue. I certainly don’t want to schlep a V8 bottle full of needles around with me (the TSA would love that…), so I’ve been investigating more options to handle sharps disposal while traveling. For the past few years, my go-to option has been empty Starbucks Frappuccino bottles or similar see-through containers that make it clear to any room service folk what’s inside.
Another option I’ve been considering is getting one of those handy little portable needle-clipping devices called the BD Safe-Clip, which removes the sharp end and holds up to 1,500 clipped needles inside (roughly a 2-year supply). Once it’s full, you dispose of it. The clipper costs less than $5 at local pharmacies or online stores. Of course, it doesn’t fit every size of syringe and it’s intended for lancets, but even if the fit is off, I bet you could somehow make use of it while traveling.
So, despite my checkered past, I am proud to say that I am now a safe-disposal convert.
OK, Dear Readers, now it’s your turn: How do you handle used D-supply disposal? Any creative, out-of-the-box or “sharp” ideas that might make this task more crafty or fun? Let us know!