RESPONSIBLE NEEDLE DISPOSAL
By: Dr. Rick Norton, D.V.M.
Equine Practitioner, EquiMedic USA, Inc., Lincoln, Nebraska
We’ve all seen the pictures on the evening news of hypodermic needles showing up and floating up in innocent but harmful places - street gutters, beaches and road side ditches. As horse owners we should all be asking ourselves how many of those nasty sharps started out on that journey from our horse barns and stables across rural and suburban American.
The implications of improperly disposed needles can be staggering. Not only can a nasty puncture wound to humans, pets and wildlife be incurred, in doing so, these needles can carry dangerous vaccines, medications, pathogens and antibiotics into the body and blood stream. Death, disease, sickness, and the loss of the effectiveness of antibiotics and medications can and has occurred.
How do you dispose of your needles ? Do you own a legal Sharps Container ? How do you dispose of your hypodermic needles and possibly those scalpel blades that you occasionally use at your horse operation ? Many horse owners give their own vaccinations or inject various antibiotics, analgesics, pain killers or relaxants to their own horses on an occasional or regular schedule.
There is only one right answer to this question: a very inexpensive bright red “Sharps Container”. These can be purchased from any number of sources including equine first aid companies, veterinary supply catalogs, and of course, your own local veterinarian; you might even be able to purchase one from your local medical clinic or hospital. A small one quart Sharps Containers can be purchased for under $4.
Purchasing a Sharps Container is often not only the cheapest part of the responsible thing to do, it is probably the easiest part of taking care of business, your business. Once full, however, you cannot just pitch that container in the normal waste stream. That’s why the Sharps Container sports a dominant label that states “Hazardous Contents”.
How and where to dispose of the full Sharps Container can be the hard part and the difficulty of the process of being a responsible user of equine hypodermic needles and sharps. For the most part, if you have a good “Vet Client Patient” (VCP) relationship, your personal equine veterinarian will probably be willing to receive and dispose of your Sharps Container for little to no cost to you.
Veterinary clinics normally have a contractual agreement with a hazardous waste company that will regularly (probably at least weekly or bi-monthly) make scheduled route stops at the clinic to pick up their sharps and various other waste products that will include such things as tissue samples, blood and lab products and the normal “deads”.
Other community resources that might be tapped to provide sharps disposal services might include human medical clinics and hospitals. Such responsible customers of regular hazardous waste disposal companies will often be willing to further do their part to help private livestock producers and consumers to become responsible as well by offering to further extend their hazardous waste services within their communities.
Another method for ensuring the process of responsible sharps disposal is to purchase a sharps container from a hazardous waste handling company who will pre-sell the disposal service along with the purchase of the Sharp's Container. In this system you can purchase the container and the disposal system at the same time.
This Sharps Container will come with a pre-paid and addressed box to send the full container back to the waste handler. This type of sharps handling system is usually only available for purchase through medical supply houses and some veterinary supply sources.
Purchasing your own syringes and needles in some states can only be done with a prescription, while in many other more agriculture and rural states across the Midwest, these items can be bought in quantity in farm supply stores. Sharps Containers are not nearly as prevalent nor widely sold and marketed as the many sized syringes and needles are, so the responsibility becomes a more pro-active one for the horse owner.
For the investment that you have in your horses, your medications and equipment, add an inexpensive Sharps Container to your shopping list. Know that you are doing the right thing for this country’s safety and the environment. Be proactive about your horse industry, and do the right thing by using a Sharps Container. Sharps Containers come in all shapes and sizes - find the one that will fit your needs in your horse operations.