Strategies for reducing sharps waste

Six methods to reduce medical (sharps) waste generation are discussed in this monograph published by the Environmental Management Branch of California’s Department of Health Service in February, 2004. Two interventions that include implementation steps address use of:

  • Recyclable containers
  • Containers made of recycled material

Greening of the red-bag waste stream: A guidance document for successful intervention to reduce medical waste generation in California hospitals

OSHA position

OSHA agrees it is acceptable to reuse sharps containers for sharps disposal (disposable and reusable) as long as containers have received 510K clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and also meet OSHA requirements under the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard. There are similar requirements from both FDA and OSHA for sharps disposal containers, including:

  • closable, puncture resistant, leak proof
  • appropriately labeled and color-coded
  • designed with an opening that is large enough to accommodate disposal of an entire blood collection assembly (i.e., blood tube holder and needle)
  • easily accessible to the immediate area where sharps are used
  • easily portable if employees travel from one location to another

Reusable sharps containers should never be opened, emptied or cleaned manually or in any other manner than would expose workers to percutaneous injuries or blood. Reusable sharps containers are transported within the facility and often stored while awaiting pick-up by outside company. As such, the containers must be leak proof. Facilities that wish to use reusable sharps disposal containers and systems should evaluate the quality and reliability of the company’s processes used to transport and reprocess the containers.

NIOSH guidance

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published guidance on use of sharps disposal containers in 1998. It contains detailed descriptions of performance criteria for evaluating containers, components of a site-specific hazard analysis, a flowchart describing the decision logic for selecting a disposable or reusable container, formulas for determining appropriate height of container for fixed installation, and pertinent regulatory requirements.

Selecting, Evaluating, and Using Sharps Disposal Containers. NIOSH, Publications Dissemination, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 4522.

The complete document may be downloaded at the following Website; go to “topics” and “health care workers” or call 202.898.3444 or 800.356.4674.