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U.S. News

California: Needle Disposal Needed -- Thorny Waste Issue Growing

January 10, 2011

In 2008, California made it illegal to dispose of used needles in the trash, becoming one of 11 states with such laws to protect waste haulers, sorters, and the environment. However, collection and proper disposal of sharps remains patchy. Needle users, including the growing number of diabetics, dispose of 355 million syringes in California annually, and most of them are still illegally thrown in the garbage, recycling bins or toilets.


The state law outlawing needles in common waste provided no additional funds for return programs. However, the California Product Stewardship Council is working with businesses, clinics, and other care providers to establish a uniform, efficient collection program, without added taxes or waste disposal fee increases to consumers. The council wants syringe producers to play some role in what it terms "extended producer responsibility."

In July 2010, the city of Sacramento began requiring retailers and distributors to coordinate "take back" programs, disposing of sharps at no cost. The county generates an estimated 10 million used needles a year from patient self-injections, said Marty Strauss, the city's waste planning superintendent.

Strauss' department has visited 300 sites that are required to offer free disposal programs and display sharps collection signage. "Most of them looked at us, very confused," during the educational visits, he said. Grocers were especially hesitant to provide collection boxes, concerned with their proximity to food.

At local Kaiser Permanente medical centers, however, more than 55 gallons of used sharps are collected each week, said Edwin Garcia, a Kaiser spokesperson. Patients given prescriptions for pre-filled syringes also receive a brochure about the collection program, he said. In two years, a state-funded Yolo County pilot collected 1,500 pounds, or 82,000 needles.

Back to other news for January 2011

Adapted from:
Sacramento Bee
12.26.2010; Anne Gonzales

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
Needle Exchange & HIV/AIDS: California

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