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Needle-Free Trash

THE U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., has issued a set of new recommendations on how residents should dispose of used syringes. The guidelines are designed to minimize the health risks to solid waste workers and others who might come into contact with the needles, such as a resident's neighbors, children or pets.

The EPA released the recommendations after consulting with the Houston-based Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal, a group of government agencies, professional associations and businesses that includes the Washington, D.C.-based National Recycling Coalition and Houston-based Waste Management Inc.

The coalition will focus on helping states develop safe needle disposal programs, says Jenny Schumann, executive director of the coalition. “We view [EPA's recommendations] as a first step,” she says.

The guidelines, which are outlined in EPA brochures, instruct residents not to dispose of used needles in their regular trash, in recycling containers or in their toilets. The recommendations urge the residents to, where available, take the syringes to used-needle drop-off sites. Some communities offer household hazardous waste containers, “special waste” pickup services and needle exchange programs, according to the brochures. Some firms also offer needle-mailback services or home needle destruction devices.

Used needles can spread germs and diseases such as HIV/AIDs, hepatitis and syphilis if they stick people, according to the brochures. Between 8 million to 9 million people in the United States regularly use needles at home to treat ailments including diabetes, arthritis and hepatitis, the coalition says.

The brochures are free and are available for download. They also can be ordered by calling (800) 490-9198. State and local governments should request the brochure titled “EPA530-K-04-001.”