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The Hazards of Improper Sharps Disposal

March 24, 2021

In the context of medical waste, a “sharp” is any object with sharp edges or points that can puncture skin. The following items are considered sharps:

  • Hypodermic needles
  • Syringes
  • Lancets
  • Auto injectors
  • Infusion sets
  • Connection needles/sets
  • Disposable scalpels

Sharps can contain pathogens and contaminants that pose a serious risk to human health and the environment. In this blog, we discuss the hazards of improper sharps disposal.

Bloodborne Illnesses

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) estimates that nearly 6 million healthcare workers are at risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens from sharps-related injuries at any given time. Although sharps are most used in healthcare facilities, sharp waste is also generated in homes and workplaces such as tattoo parlors, exposing people in the general population to potential bloodborne infections.

Once a sharp is used, it has the potential to contaminate anyone whose skin is punctured by the object. As a result, after use, sharps should be placed in a shatter- and puncture-proof container. Sharps waste containers are leak resistant and marked with a biohazard waste label.

Environmental Health

Whether releasing toxins or pathogens into the atmosphere, soil, or waterways, improper disposal of sharps poses a threat to the environment. Therefore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the management and collection of hazardous medical waste. Proper segregation and disposal of sharps waste prevents the contamination of the soil, groundwater sources and the air we breathe.

A reputable and experienced medical waste provider will treat sharps and other medical waste by autoclaving, a process that exposes sharps waste to pressurized steam for a period of 40 to 45 minutes to deactivate bacteria and viruses. Besides autoclaving, a full-service medical waste disposal provider can also offer incineration of chemotherapy sharps disposal. High temperatures used during incineration renders toxic organic substances in the sharps inert so they can be safely disposed of without harming the environment.


Federal and state laws require the proper disposal of all regulated waste, which includes sharps waste. According to the OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, all sharps must be handled and disposed of properly. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires sharps waste to be transported per DOT guidelines. State regulations require either incineration or sterilization of sharps waste. Partnering with a reputable and experienced medical waste disposal provider who offers both options will help you avoid non-compliance fines and penalties.

GreenServ provides compliant, sustainable, and secure medical waste disposal services to clients throughout Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee. To learn more about our sharps waste program, please call us at 662-533-0940 or complete the form on this page.

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