Written by Amy Piser
20 Jun 2024

How to Dispose of Sharps Containers: A Step-by-Step Guide

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 385,000 needlestick or sharps injury-related incidents occur to hospital-based healthcare workers annually in the US alone. This statistic does not account for non-hospital settings like nursing homes, clinics, dialysis centers, veterinary facilities, or home-based scenarios. Proper disposal of sharps waste is crucial for anyone handling sharp objects in the healthcare industry.


1 / Sharps Waste Basics

2 / What Should You Do Before Disposing of Needles in Sharps Containers?

3 / How and When Should Medical Sharps Containers Be Emptied?

4 / Where to Dispose of Sharps Containers

5 / Risks of Improper Sharps Waste Disposal

6 / Regulations and Compliance

7 / Resources to Reduce Needlestick Injuries

8 / Introducing The Sharpsmart System

9 / Get Started With Daniels Health Today 

Sharps Waste Basics

Sharps waste encompasses any medical device with sharp points or edges that can puncture or cut the skin. This includes needles, syringes, scalpels, and other sharp medical instruments.

It is essential for any healthcare or healthcare-related facility to understand the proper handling, segregation, and disposal of sharps to minimize the risk of needlestick injuries and contamination. Improper disposal of sharps waste endangers healthcare workers and poses significant risks to the general public and the environment.

Sharps Containers: Options For Healthcare Facilities

Healthcare facilities have several options for managing sharps waste, ranging from single-use to completely reusable sharps containers.

  • Single-Use Containers: Single-use containers are used once and disposed of.

  • Reusable Containers: Reusable Containers are designed for durability and repeated use.

The choice between these options depends on various factors, including the facility's waste management policies, budget, and environmental considerations.

What Should You Do Before Disposing of Needles in Sharps Containers?

Before disposing of needles and other sharps, investing in containers that meet specific criteria is crucial to ensure safety and compliance.

Medical Sharps Container Requirements:

According to OSHA, a proper container for sharps should be clearly labeled to indicate its purpose and be designed to make it easy to determine the fill status without touching the contents. Additionally, these containers should facilitate minimal training requirements, be flexible in design, and be easy to operate. 

Proper placement of sharps containers is vital to ensure accessibility and safety. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), sharps containers should be placed close to the point of use, at a height that allows easy access while minimizing the risk of accidental needlestick injuries.

It is also crucial to ensure that containers are easily accessible to healthcare workers and out of reach of unauthorized individuals, such as patients and visitors.

How and When Should Medical Sharps Containers Be Emptied?

  • Sharps should be placed in disposal containers immediately after use to reduce exposure risks.
  • Delaying disposal increases the likelihood of needlestick injuries and contamination.
  • It is essential to have sharps containers readily available in areas where sharps are used, such as patient rooms, operating rooms, and laboratories.
  • Avoiding overfilling of sharps containers is critical in preventing needlestick injuries.
  • An overfilled container of sharps poses a significant risk, as needles and other sharp instruments can protrude from the container, increasing the chance of accidental injuries.
  • Healthcare facilities should adhere to the fill line or the three-quarters rule, ensuring that containers are not filled beyond three-quarters of their capacity.

Where To Dispose of Sharps Containers

The question of where to take sharps containers for disposal requires careful consideration of local regulations and disposal options, as these can vary significantly by location. Sharps containers should never be disposed of in regular household trash or recycling bins, which can lead to health risks and environmental harm. Instead, healthcare facilities should follow guidelines provided by regulatory bodies to ensure the safe and compliant disposal of sharps waste.

Professional Medical Waste Management Services

The most convenient and reliable option for disposing of sharps containers is to use professional medical waste management services like Daniels Health. These services offer scheduled pickups and ensure the safe disposal of sharps containers in compliance with state and federal regulations.

By partnering with a professional service, healthcare facilities can focus on patient care while ensuring their waste management practices meet all regulatory requirements.

Risks of Improper Sharps Waste Disposal

Improper disposal of sharps waste can lead to severe health risks, including the potential transmission of bloodborne pathogens such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV. These infections can have devastating consequences for individuals exposed to contaminated sharps.

Additionally, improper disposal methods can result in environmental contamination, affecting soil and water sources and posing risks to wildlife and the broader ecosystem.

The CDC highlights the importance of proper sharps disposal to prevent these health and environmental risks. Following best practices and adhering to regulatory guidelines can significantly reduce the incidence of needlestick injuries and contamination, ensuring a safer environment for healthcare workers and the public.

Regulations and Compliance

Sharps waste disposal is regulated by various local and national guidelines to ensure safety and environmental protection. Healthcare facilities' sharps disposal programs must comply with these regulations to avoid legal repercussions and ensure the well-being of their staff and patients.

Key Regulatory Bodies And Guidelines:

Key regulatory bodies and guidelines include the Environmental Protection Agency’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which provides detailed requirements for managing hazardous waste, including sharps waste. Additionally, the FDA offers recommendations on sharps disposal to further enhance safety practices.

Compliance with these regulations is not only a legal obligation but also a crucial aspect of maintaining a safe healthcare environment. Healthcare facilities should regularly review and update waste management practices to ensure ongoing compliance with current guidelines.

Resources to Reduce Needlestick Injuries

To further enhance workplace safety, healthcare facilities can access a variety of resources from reputable organizations:

  • The CDC provides extensive educational materials, including teaching tools, brochures, and posters, to promote sharps safety.
  • The Federal Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act offers valuable guidelines for implementing effective safety measures and reducing the risk of needlestick injuries.

By leveraging these resources, healthcare facilities can improve their safety protocols and minimize the occurrence of needlestick injuries, ensuring a safer work environment for their employees.

Introducing The Sharpsmart System

Daniels Health offers comprehensive solutions for sharps disposal through our innovative Sharpsmart system. What sets Sharpsmart apart from other medical waste containers?

The system includes a range of larger and small sharps containers designed to enhance safety and compliance with health regulations. Sharpsmart containers feature unique aspects such as overfill protection, permanent locking mechanisms, and hands-free disposal options, significantly reducing the risk of needlestick injuries and contamination.

The Sharpsmart system provides several advantages for healthcare facilities, including improved security, compliance with regulatory guidelines, and cost-effective waste management solutions. By choosing Daniels Health, healthcare facilities can ensure that their sharps disposal practices are safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible.

Get Started With Daniels Health Today

Proper disposal of sharps waste is essential for maintaining a safe and healthy healthcare environment. By following best practices and leveraging professional services like Daniels Health, healthcare facilities can effectively manage their sharps waste and reduce the risk of needlestick injuries and contamination. Daniels Health is a leading provider of sharps waste management solutions and containers, offering a range of products and services designed to enhance safety and compliance. For more information on how to dispose of sharps containers, and to find out how Daniels Health can support your healthcare facility's waste management needs, contact us today.

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Amy Piser

Amy Piser

Clinical Waste Educator

With 26 years experience working in healthcare, Amy has implemented sustainability initiatives for over 100 hospitals across the United States and brings unique practice and compliance expertise to healthcare waste management.