Sharps Container Basics

Medical waste (sharps) disposal requires a puncture resistant container.

by Sarah Morrison


TerraCycle Regulated Waste has started working with many different end users that include patients that self inject at home, healthcare facilities, nursing facilities and more. It is very important to make sure that sharps are properly secured in a OSHA approved sharps container to avoid needle sticks.

For many individuals, interaction with sharps is an everyday occurrence. Sharps are classified as any device or object used to puncture or lacerate the skin. These include common items such as: hypodermic needles, disposable scalpels and blades, and contaminated glass and some plastics. (1) Once used in this manner, a sharp is now labeled as bio-hazardous waste, and must be disposed of properly in a sharps container. In this blog, we are going to discuss the following:

What are Sharps Containers?

Why are Sharps Containers needed?

Where do you find Sharps Containers?

What are Sharps Containers?

The FDA has cleared certain types of containers for certified sharps container disposal. These plastic containers must be “leak-resistant, remain upright during use, and have a tight-fitting, puncture-resistant lid”. (2) The reasoning behind this heavy amount of regulation is the fact that used sharps are considered to be bio-hazardous waste. Sharps containers can be either single-use, disposed of along with the sharp inside, or recyclable, which are emptied and sterilized before being returned for use. (1)

Why are Sharps Containers needed?

According to the WHO, more than sixteen billion injections are administered annually worldwide. (3) Individuals with medical conditions such as allergies, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, infertility, migraines, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, blood clotting disorders, and psoriasis, require the use of sharps often multiple times a day.

Examples of sharps include:

● Needle – a very fine, slender, hollow piece of metal used to inject medication under the skin.

● Syringe – device which a needle is attached to in order to inject medication into or withdraw fluid from the body.

● Lancet also called a “finger stick” – instruments with a short, two-edged blade used to get drops of blood for testing. Lancets are commonly used in the treatment of diabetes.

● Auto injector, including epinephrine pens – syringe pre-filled with fluid medication designed to be self-injected into the body.

● Infusion set – tubing system with a needle used to deliver drugs to the body.

● Connection needle/set – needle that connects to a tube used to transfer fluids in and out of the body. This is generally used for patients on home hemodialysis. (4)

Sharps container disposal is necessary in order for that bio-hazardous material to be safely handled. It’s important that disposed sharps not be forced into the container, so that the sides aren’t punctured and needle stick injury occur. Sharps containers should never be filled past the indicated line, typically two-thirds of the way, in order to prevent these incidents.

Where do you find Sharps Containers?

Any facility such as healthcare, dental, and medical offices that handle sharps, are required to house FDA-certified sharps containers. In addition to medical facilities, many public areas such as airports and restrooms in large institutions also offer sharps containers in order to accommodate the self-injectors. Sharps disposal is heavily regulated, requiring containers to display a bio-hazardous symbol indicating that the material inside is hazardous. Each state regulates the disposal of sharps differently. Click HERE to determine your state’s standards for sharps disposal.

It’s important to minimize the amount of contact that an individual has with bio-hazardous material such as sharps waste. For that reason, programs such as sharps mail-back systems exist to take away the issue of finding a reputable disposal location. TerraCycle Regulated Waste can proactively provide sharps mail-back systems to patients that self-inject. Any healthcare facility or self injector can find solutions for sharps Mail-Back waste HERE.

The number of sharps produced annually is steadily growing. Sharps containers are necessary in ensuring that the disposal of that bio-hazardous waste is done safely and efficiently.


(1) “Sharps Waste.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Sept. 2018,

(2) “FDA-Cleared Sharps Containers.” Safe Needle Disposal,

(3) WHO Archived 2006-05-25 at the Wayback Machine. World Health Organization (2004). Proposed agenda to evaluate the risks and benefits associated with using needle-removing devices. Switzerland.

(4) Safe Needle Disposal. (2018). What Are Sharps? – Safe Needle Disposal – Types of Sharps. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Oct. 2018].

Topics: sharps mail backsharps container disposalvet sharps disposal

TerraCycle Regulated Waste Announces Addition of Medwaste Recycling

TRENTON, N.J., (August 8, 2018) – Medical waste (in the form of used sharps) has become the latest difficult-to-recycle recycling program at TerraCycle, as the company continues to add waste streams to its product list.  Utilizing EPA-approved sterilization technology, the company has developed a system that provides contaminant exposure protection and high-efficiency material recovery.

The regulated waste division of TerraCycle has created a sharps container and shipping carton system available in a variety of sizes.  The puncture-resistant sharps containers are approved for use by both UPS and the US Postal Service when shipped within the corresponding carton.  Sizes range from a 1.4-quart container for home use to a commercial 28-gallon system.  Like its Zero Waste Box programs, the medwaste boxes are postage-prepaid—the customer simply fills the sharps container, boxes it and calls UPS or USPS for a pickup.

Recycle the materials from used sharps safely and securely.

“This is an exciting addition to the regulated waste offerings at TerraCycle,” explains Bobby Farris, General Manager of TerraCycle Regulated Waste, “We’re providing a real alternative to incineration for medwaste customers who want to see the materials recycled.”

According to the World Health Organization, as much as 90% of all medical waste is incinerated, even though only 15% of it is actually considered biologically hazardous.  Originally, it was thought that destroying medical waste through incineration destroyed the known pathogens, but more recent science suggests the process exposes the environment to potential contaminants in the form of microscopic particulate emitted in the process exhaust.  Furthermore, the resulting ash and byproducts are not easily recouped for recycling or reuse and are often landfilled.

To protect the population and environment, the EPA has begun to promote the use of “Alternative Treatment and Disposal Technologies for Medical Waste.”   By utilizing commercial steam disinfection (autoclave) of medical waste and then processing the sharps to separate metals, plastics and glass, TerraCycle is able to reclaim valuable materials and divert waste from the landfill.  The system provides better, more measurable elimination of biohazards and lessens the linear use of resources.