SOUTHERN COLORADO — The World Health Organization estimated that around 16 billion injections are given every year worldwide. However, WHO also reported that if syringes and needles are not thrown away in a safe manner, it elevates the risk of injury and infection. News 5 took a closer look at how to properly throw away this kind of medical waste, which can be referred to as "sharps."
Katie Bennett is in fourth grade, and found out around three years ago that she has type 1 diabetes. "It was very scary when I was diagnosed," said Katie.
For the first year of her diagnosis, Katie's mom Monica said they used an insulin pen, but have since switched to an insulin pump. Monica said with both methods, there are tiny needles involved. "The pharmacies weren't taking them anymore, which was my first thought. We were told we could possibly take them to police stations, fire stations, and that was kind of hit or miss as well," said Monica Bennett.
Monica said she found out many of those tiny needles can be self-contained, meaning they come with a small container to house the actual needle once it's been used. Before she learned about that, she said they had been collecting the needles in a sharps container. "Ended up being, 'hey you don't need to do that,' since they are self-contained inside there, you can just duct tape it up and then throw the whole thing in the trash can," said Monica. Monica is referring to putting the tiny needle inside of it's plastic casing, and then putting the entire piece inside of an approved container, and taping that container to make sure nothing can fall out.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said for household needles and sharps, one should never put them in with recyclables. CDPHE also reported that a commercially available sharps container should be purchased, or a strong plastic or metal container with a secure lid can hold used sharps. They have suggestions for which kinds of containers are best and which ones are not sufficient. CDPHE said all containers should be labeled as "sharps" or "biohazard waste," and can then be placed in the trash bin on the day it gets picked up.
The Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Association in Pueblo collects syringes from those struggling with addiction. "We get a lot of calls from folks in the community who are diabetics... I would love to be able to tell the general community, yes, we'll take your syringes, but they charge us by the pound and I can barely afford to recycle, you know, my own community," said Judy Solano, the founder and director of the Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Association. Solano said to properly dispose of the sharps they receive each month costs them around a third of their monthly budget.
The needles from Pueblo are picked up by a company in Colorado Springs called Healthcare Medical Waste Services. "We offer them those services at a reduced price because they are a non-profit and they do help the city of Pueblo," said the General Manager of Healthcare Medical Waste Services, Gary McCarthy.* McCarthy said they treat the medical waste at their facility and make it suitable to be sent to the landfill. He also said once the process is over, it has an 80% reduction in landfill use.
Healthcare Medical Waste Services typically partners with other businesses or organizations, but will accept medical waste from the general public at a nominal fee. Monica Bennett said if she were to have sharps waste nowadays, she would have to make some calls to figure out where to dispose it.
If you need to find a place to safely dispose of sharps, visit safeneedledisposal.org and type in your zip code. It will pull up places nearby that can help. The El Paso County Household Hazardous Waste Facility will accept typical household hazardous waste from El Paso and Teller County residents at no charge. There is also the Medical Sharps Disposal Program in Pueblo, which will take an individual's sharps in an approved medical sharps container for a fee.
*The original story aired with a misspelling of Gary McCarthy's name.