Diabetics and other medical needle users will have to start planning more trips to the landfill due to a new state law.
As of Sept. 1, it is illegal to throw away home-generated medical needles into the trash in California. Instead, sharps will have to be put in red hazardous waste containers and taken to the county landfill on designated drop-off days, said Cheryl Boney, deputy director of Public Health Programs for Yolo County.
“With the new law, sharps will be treated with heat or taken to a medical waste landfill. Sharps will stay in the red container and no one has the chance to get stuck,” Boney said.
The new law is intended to prevent landfill, trash and recycling workers from getting pricked by used needles, said Marissa Juhler, Waste Reduction Manager of the Division of Integrated Waste Management in Yolo County.
“A needle goes through the conveyor belt and workers get stuck with needles. This happens across the U.S.,” Juhler said.
The new law bans people from putting used needles into containers, such as coffee cans, and then throwing the container into the trash, which was formerly the standard disposal method. Enforcement of the law is mostly based on people’s awareness that this is a health and safety issue, Juhler said.
“Word needs to get out there that it’s banned to throw away your sharps,” she said. “It may take a while to understand this process and there really isn’t any strict enforcement.”
The law had not been well known with the Yolo County Health Department until further into the year, Boney said. The Health Department got a task force started in June, helping to prevent needle sticks.
“We want to cut down on needle sticks,” she said. “It is stressful for janitorial staff when they are pricked. They have to get tested and can get diseases such as Hepatitis B or C.”
Under the new law, there will be certain weekends each month to drop off used needles to the landfill to make sure they are disposed of properly, Juhler said. This month, Yolo County residents can drop off sharps at the landfill on Sept. 12 and 13.
But dropping off sharps may not be so easy for all residents.
“The only complaints we have been receiving is for seniors and disabled people who don’t have the ability to leave their homes,” Juhler said.
For people who cannot make it to the landfill, there is a free home pick-up service in Yolo County through the Division of Waste Management, she said.
Norma Quinn, Davis resident and volunteer at the Davis Senior Center, said she breaks the tips of her insulin needles and then tapes them into a coffee can. Now this is illegal.
“The way this new law bothers me is that it’s going to be hard to tote the needles off to the landfill,” Quinn said.
Pharmacies would be more accessible places to get containers or to drop off used needles, she said. But more importantly, people do not even know they need to change their needle-disposal methods.
“I think the word should get out. I just happened to read about the new law in the newspaper,” Quinn said.
In response to complaints about limited drop-off times and locations, two things are happening through Yolo County Waste Management, said waste reduction manager Juhler.
On any day and at no cost, drop-offs are accepted at Sacramento’s Recycling and Transfer Station on 8491 Fruitridge Road in Sacramento.
“Yolo has a partnership with the city of Sacramento so people can drop off sharps at a landfill in Sacramento any day of the week, free of charge,” Juhler said.
“Second, Yolo County is applying for a grant through the Waste Management Board to get many new sharps disposal containers,” she added.
With this grant, extra containers could be distributed to nursing homes and hospitals where people could get them free of cost, Juhler said.
The county has added sharps disposal information to their resources hotline, at 666-8729. More information on changes to the law can be found at tinyurl.com/6dyluq.
SASHA LEKACH can be reached at email@example.com.