A facility that processes 100 tons of medical waste per year has developed a new recycling program for syringes, needles and containers for their reuse in the healthcare industry.
Vernon-based Waste Management’s (WM) program seeks to reuse some of the material recycled from about 8 million syringes and needles discarded annually in the United States, while at the same time raising awareness among the millions of people who inject themselves at home about the proper handling of these hazardous waste items.
“This plant increases the recycling of wastes that were previously packed and taken to a dump. Now, they collect materials such as metals and plastics to give them a new life,” explains Lily Quiroa, a Waste Management spokesperson.
Every month, the WM plant recycles thousands of pounds plastics and metals, which are extracted from special containers from hospitals across the state.
Administrators know there is a great potential for reusing these materials, especially if one considers that in the last ten years the number of people who inject themselves at home for medical reasons has increased from 9 to 14 million, according to the firm’s data.
“Materials recovered as plastic fibers are treated by a special machine that crushes and separates the metals by powerful magnets, leaving a fiber that is then handed over to the company Becton Dickinson and Co (BD) to turn them into new containers,” said Jesus Olague, an employee at the plant.
However, the proper handling of this type of hazardous waste has for the most part been viewed as a public health issue, since nationwide there are over 600,000 cases of people becoming puncture victims of inappropriately discarded needles and syringes reported annually.
“Many workers in the recycling industry and other victims of mishandled needle sticks are infected with Hepatitis B and C, and HIV,” said Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC), an organization seeking a solution to what is considered a major problem, but in the shadows.
Ideally, says Sanborn, the same producers should be responsible for the complete cycle of needles and syringes, that’s why his organization is calling for a statewide collection program.
“There has been a dramatic increase in needle stick punctures in our recycling staff and waste workers, because there are many needles discarded without their containers. We believe that producers who profit from these needles and inject able medications, should have primary responsibility to design, finance and operate this program,” she said.
For CPSC, the local economic impact totals over $226 million per year, due to workdays lost due to medical exams, infections and treatments victims must undergo.
Sanborn says so far firms manufacturing these products have responded positively, though she firmly believes the answer to the problem should be private and not public, especially because she is confident that these companies could handle the process more effectively in terms of cost and performance.
However, she warns that people should be aware of the problem and act effectively as agents of change.
“The important thing for the general population to know is that needles and syringes should not be discarded in the trash,” she said.
Los Angeles County regularly schedules “Too Toxic to Trash” hazardous waste collection events where needles, syringes and other types of hazardous waste can be properly discarded. Once of those events will be held this Saturday in the city of Paramount.
Visit EGP’s Community Calendar or see the announcement on page 10 for more details