The Oneida County Landfill shut down recycling last week as a result of improper needle disposal.
Needles, also referred to as “sharps,” have been making a recurring appearance in the county’s Material Recovery Facility (MRF), mixed in with the regular recycling.
“They’re not recyclable and they’re not allowed in the landfill,” Oneida County solid waste director Lisa Jolin said.
According to Jolin, while some of the sharps were in the standard, disposable sharps containers,
others were “busted up and loose.”
Loose medical sharps, such as needles, syringes, and lancets, pose significant safety risks for employees and sanitation who come into contact with them.
Jolinindicated accidental needle sticks and employee safety were among the top concerns she had regarding loose sharps in recycling.
“We have sort line workers that pick through the recycling and sort it into whatever bins they go in,” Jolin said.
Since sharps cannot be disposed of in regular trash and recycling, and require special disposal, Jolin said they needed to be put into the proper container and taken to places that specifically handle them.
Vilas County has also seen many of the same issues Oneida County has when it came to improper sharps disposal.
Eagle Waste and Recycling out of Eagle River reported loose or improperly disposed sharps has continued to be a problem.
“I can’t say it’s been worse, but we’ve always had a problem with that,” Eagle Waste and Recycling MRF manager Brian Albee said. “With people, they put them in plastic containers and then throw it in the recycling. Well, that’s not the way to do it.”
Albee said he thought he had seen at least 12 accidental needle sticks within the past two to three years.
“We’ve been doing this for about six years, and it’s always been a problem,” Albee said.
Even if the sharps are in a proper container, Albee said they try to get them out of recycling and transfered to a local hospital, which created a lot of extra work for the employees.
As with Oneida County, one of the primary concerns is with employee safety.
“Obviously you don’t know if it’s a contaminated needle. We have procedures. We send the person to the emergency room,” Albee said. “They take, I’m not exactly sure what the hospital does, but I believe they draw blood, and if we have the needle, we take that in and they test it.”
Albee said this process costs the company about $1,000 every time there was an accidental stick.
Needle stick injuries require testing, as needle sticks increase risk of exposure to infectious diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis from contaminated needles, the Department of Natural Resources website indicates.
“They do wear cut-resistant gloves on the line, but a needle goes through just about anything,” Albee said.
Proper disposal methods
There are proper alternatives to disposing of medical sharps in the trash or recycling, and the DNR website states.
The DNR recommends clipping needle points, or recapping/
resheathing discarded sharps to further prevent needle sticks — though recapping needles is
prohibited in health care facilities — as well as placing sharps in rigid puncture-resistant containers with secure lids.
Containers should be properly and visibly labeled with the words “biohazard,” “infectious waste,” or “sharps,” or the bio-hazard emblem to indicate their contents. Should a recyclable container be used to
dispose of sharps, the container should be marked as “do not recycle.”
The DNR advises contacting local hospitals, pharmacies, and public health departments about local options for proper sharps disposal.
Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected]