Public hospitals in NSW are required to provide a community sharps disposal service for members of the public. Each local health district has discretion to determine the type of disposal facility provided.
This service is not provided for commercial generators of sharps waste, and does not include the supply of replacement sharps containers to community sharps generators.
The minimum requirements are:
- there must be no charge for disposal
- there must be reasonable access in regard to the location of the disposal service and the times when it is available
- persons requesting a disposal service should not be required to provide information or documentation of a personal or medical nature
- the service must adequately address occupational health and public safety considerations
- persons must not be required to attend a needle and syringe service, drug and alcohol service or similarly identified service in order to obtain a disposal service.
Disposal facilities at public hospital may not be readily accessible to a significant number of community members because of transport, parking and personal mobility issues
NSW Health Policy Directive PD2008_004 Community Sharps Disposal clarifies services to be provided at public hospitals and
authorised outlets of the Needle and Syringe Program for the disposal of
used needles, syringes and other community sharps resulting from the
self-management of medical conditions and injecting drug use by
members of the public.
Needle and Syringe Program (NSP) outlets
The NSP provides a network of community sharps disposal facilities for its clients across NSW. All authorised NSP outlets are also required to accept used injecting equipment and other community sharps from members of the public regardless of whether they are clients of the NSP. This service does not include the supply of replacement sharps containers to community sharps generators who are not clients of the NSP. However, it is recognised that some members of the public who self-inject to treat a medical condition may not feel comfortable about using disposal facilities at an NSP outlet.
Pharmacy Fitpack® Scheme
Over 400 pharmacies in NSW participate in this scheme, which makes clean injecting equipment available to injecting drug users. New syringes and a personal use sharps container (Fitpack®) are provided free to clients who return used injecting equipment to participating pharmacies for disposal.
Community health centres
Community sharps disposal facilities may be provided by community health centres.
Public disposal bins
Many local businesses provide community sharps disposal bins in public toilets and restrooms, particularly in service industries such as entertainment, hospitality and accommodation, and in major retail centres.
Residential collection service
Some clinical waste contractors provide (for a fee) a household pick-up service of full sharps containers and also provide their residential customers with a replacement sharps container.
Many local councils provide community sharps bins for disposal of single syringes in public toilets with a history of syringe litter. These disposal facilities are also available for use by people who are required to self-inject regularly to treat a medical condition, particularly when they are away from home or travelling.
Public disposal bins
Community sharps bins can be installed in a range of readily accessible locations. Disposal bins can also be strategically placed in areas such as parks, car parks (at beaches and shopping centres etc.), outside public buildings, and at waste handling facilities. Disposal bins in these locations typically range in size from 23 litres to 240 litres, and can accommodate personal use containers such as Fitpacks®, as well as larger sharps containers up to 7.8 litre capacity in the larger disposal bins. Larger sharps containers are commonly used by people with diabetes and others who self-inject to treat a medical condition.
Larger capacity public place bins also provide a confidential disposal method for people who do not wish to disclose their health status to others, and they are often accessible on a 24 hour per day basis.
Pharmacy disposal programs
Many pharmacists are willing to enter into an agreement with their local council to provide community sharps disposal facilities for their customers. The council employs a sharps waste contractor to supply and service a community sharps container at the pharmacy, where it is kept in a secure location for customer use. This type of disposal service is generally very convenient for customers who obtain their injecting equipment from the pharmacy, although some customers may prefer to use a disposal option that provides greater confidentiality.
Community sharps collections
Because of the historical lack of accessible community sharps disposal facilities in some local government areas and reluctance to dispose of their community sharps into the council waste service, some (particularly elderly) generators may have opted to stockpile containers of community sharps at home. Providing a community sharps drop-off option will help to reduce the incidence of stockpiled community sharps and subsequent inappropriate disposal by allowing for the safe disposal of multiple sharps containers at one time.
Some local councils provide free sharps containers to community members who self-inject to treat a medical condition as a strategy to reduce the risk of injury to others from the use of inappropriate containers.
Sharps disposal services are available for people with diabetes at selected pharmacies and other authorised collection points in NSW. To check community sharps disposal locations in NSW go to the Australian Diabetes Council. The location of community sharps disposal facilities in local areas can also be obtained by phoning Australian Diabetes Council on 1300 342 238. Councils can update the Diabetes NSW disposal location database for their area by phone (02) 6938 4407.
Needle destruction devices and retractable needles
There are a variety of products available for use in the home that snip, break or melt the needle to reduce or eliminate the hazard of community sharps entering the waste stream. Needles that retract into the barrel of the syringe are also available. Using equipment specifically designed for this purpose may help to reduce the risk of a needlestick injury to the user, their family and friends. However, it is recommended that all components of syringes that have had the needle removed or destroyed, or have a retractable needle, should be placed into a sharps container and disposed of at a community sharps disposal facility. Reasons for advocating this course of action include:
- the potential for a treated syringe to retain a section of needle capable of piercing or penetrating the skin cannot be discounted – there is no guarantee that every syringe will be rendered harmless
- the potential for the barrel of the syringe minus the needle to still cause significant alarm or concern to waste services workers or members of the community
- removing the needle may give rise to the perception that the plastic syringe barrel is then suitable for disposal to a council recycling service.