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County: Dispose Properly of Sharps

A string of recent shutdowns at Pittsburgh city recycling facilities prompted public local health officials to issue a warning about proper disposal of hazardous medical waste.

Sorting lines had to be temporarily shut down on three separate occasions at the recycling center in Hazelwood when workers came across "sharps" — needles, syringes, lancets, and other instruments used in home health care — intermingled with paper, plastic, and metal recyclables. Allegheny County Health Department spokesman Guillermo Cole said no employees were hurt, but workers had to be sent home for the day while the materials were cleaned up. Because recyclable waste is sorted by hand, he said, employees are susceptible to injury or infection when they encounter sharps on the job.

"People can protect themselves and others, as well as the environment, by properly disposing of the sharp objects and other materials that they use when administering health care in the home," Cole said. "These items are not recyclable and should always be put out with your regular household waste."

The correct way to throw out sharps is to seal them in puncture-resistant plastic before throwing them in the trash, Cole said. He recommends empty detergent containers with tight fitting screw-on caps.