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Needle and Syringe Disposal

Used needles, syringes and lancets (“sharps”) from individuals are termed “home-generated” medical waste by California law, and are not regulated as “medical waste,” which is generated on site by medical providers.

Businesses and facilities that take back home-generated sharps waste can be found through:

  • Calling 1-800-CLEANUP (1-800-253-2687)
  • Visiting the Earth 911.org website

California law related to sharps waste disposal

California law does not require pharmacies to take back sharps waste from individuals; although some local (cities and county) ordinances in California do require pharmacies to take back sharps waste. (Information about these city and county ordinances can be found by visiting the CalRecycle website.)

Business and Professions (B&P) Code Section 4146 permits pharmacies to accept the return of needles and syringes from the public if contained in a sharps container, which is defined in H&S Code Section 117750 as “a rigid puncture-resistant container that, when sealed, is leak resistant and cannot be reopened without great difficulty.”

B&P Code 4145.5 requires syringe exchange programs and pharmacies that sell or provide nonprescription syringes to also provide consumers with one or more of three disposal options: 1) onsite disposal, 2) provision of sharps containers that meet applicable state and federal standards, and/or 3) provision of mail-back sharps containers.

Health and Safety (H&S) Code Section 118286 prohibits individuals from discarding home-generated sharps waste in home or business recycling or waste containers.

H&S Code Section 118286 also requires that home-generated sharps waste be transported only in a sharps container or other container approved by the applicable enforcement agency, which may be either the state (CalRecycle program) or a local government agency.  Home-generated sharps waste may be managed at household hazardous waste facilities, at “home-generated sharps consolidation points,” at the facilities of medical waste generators, or by the use of medical waste mail-back containers approved by the state.

Resources

The State of California does not currently regulate home-generated medical waste. However, two state agencies provide guidance on home-generated sharps waste disposal. The California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB)’s Sharps & Health Home Care Waste Home Page is a valuable resource both for individuals who use sharps and must dispose of them properly, and for counties, cities and businesses working to comply with sharps disposal law.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has the authority to approve locations as points of consolidation for the collection of home-generated sharps waste, which, after collection, are transported and treated as medical waste. CDPH’s Medical Waste Management Program provides support and oversight to home-generated sharps consolidation points located in 25 counties and two cities. The CDPH website includes locations of home-generated sharps waste disposal sites throughout the state, as well as information on who to contact in each county for further information on home-generated sharps waste disposal.

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Last modified on: 2/6/2013 1:46 PM