Disposing of needles and syringes

Sharps containerIt is important to manage and dispose of needles, lancets, and syringes (sharps) safely to prevent injury and disease transmission from needle-sticks. Never leave needles or syringes on streets, in parks, or anywhere else where someone could get injured.

A commercial sharps disposal container from a mailback collection program reduces the risk of a sharps-related accident. It is very durable, clearly labeled, and closes securely.

PDF icon Safe Disposal Options for Needles and Syringes

Storage or destruction of needles

Store at home

  • Purchase a sharps disposal container from a pharmacy, or use an empty laundry detergent bottle with a screw-on lid. (see note below)
  • Do not store used sharps in glass bottles, aluminum cans, or coffee cans.
  • If you are bringing used sharps to a clinic or hospital collection site or using a mail-back program, follow their requirements, which may include use of a pre-purchased sharps container.
  • Always keep storage containers for used sharps out of the reach of children.

Destroy at home

Sharps needle incinerator

Devices or containers with mechanisms that bend, break, incinerate (destroy by high heat), or shear needles are called sharps needle destruction devices.

  • A destruction device that incinerates needles and lancets can be used at home to destroy needles immediately after use. These small, portable devices use a few seconds of high heat to melt needles and reduce them to BB-size balls. Previously used only in healthcare facilities, these devices are now available in smaller, less expensive models for home use. Once the needle or lancet is destroyed by heat in a destruction device, the remaining syringe and melted metal can be safely disposed of in the garbage (not the recycling container).
  • Sharps needle clipperA needle cutter that automatically stores the cut needles is also useful while away from home when a disposal container is not available. Clipped needles should be disposed of at a sharps collection site or through a mail-back program.

Disposal options

Household sharps collection sites

In Minnesota, it is up to each pharmacy, healthcare facility, city, and county to decide whether they want to collect household sharps from citizens. Many counties offer free or low-cost household sharps collection sites. Contact your county solid waste office or household hazardous waste program to find out if they collect household sharps for proper disposal.

Most healthcare facilities do not accept household sharps from patients, however, a few pharmacies in Minnesota do. Find Minnesota household sharps collection sites: http://safeneedledisposal.org

  • Do not bring household sharps to a Take It to the Box household medication dropbox at a pharmacy or law enforcement stations.
  • Dispose of prefilled syringes, such as EpiPen™ or Narcan™ injectors, with your household sharps.
  • If your sharps container does not have a tight screw-on lid, use strong tape, such as duct tape, to secure the lid and any openings.

Clinics and hospital collection sites

  • Some clinics and hospitals have collection programs for needles, lancets, and syringes used by their patients at home. If your healthcare provider has a collection program, learn about and follow their instructions for sharps storage and disposal.
  • Do not bring used needles and syringes to your clinic or hospital if they are unable to accept them.

Home needle-destruction devices

  • Once the needle or lancet is destroyed by heat in a destruction device, the remaining syringe and melted metal can be safely disposed of in the garbage (not the recycling container).
  • A needle clipper that stores clipped needles should be disposed of at a sharps collection site or through a mail-back program.

Mail-back programs

  • Mail-back disposal programs allow home sharps users to mail used sharps to licensed disposal facilities as a safe disposal option. There is a fee charged for this service. Check with your health care provider or pharmacist, or search the yellow pages or Internet using key words "sharps mailback."
Storing sharps in a bottle

Storing in a bottle - legal, but less safe

In Minnesota, it is currently legal to put used sharps that are in a laundry detergent bottle with a lid (sealed with tape) into the garbage.

However this is highly discouraged because of the injury and health risks it places on garbage hauler and processing facility workers. It is best to use one of the options previously listed for safe management and disposal of used sharps.

Never place loose needles or syringes in the trash or recycling!

  • Label container Do Not Recycle: Household Sharps
  • Put sharps in point-first
  • Containers more than half-full should be disposed of
  • Store sharps in closed container with the cap screwed on

For more information

For more information on household hazardous wastes and collection programs, contact your county's solid waste office.

HTML icon Needles and other sharps - Safe disposal (FDA)

Tips for safely disposing (getting rid of) needles and other sharp devices that are used outside of health care settings. Patients and caregivers should keep these tips in mind when at home, at work, and while traveling. (Food and Drug Administration)

HTML icon Sharps safety for healthcare settings (CDC)

Resources to help healthcare facilities prevent needlesticks and other sharps-related injuries to healthcare personnel. (Centers for Disease Control)