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The Increase of Sharps Disposal Bins in Public Places

These days we’re exposed to so many different types of waste disposal, it can seem like it’s impossible to keep track. Both in our personal lives and in business, segregating our rubbish has become a part of our daily lives, whether we do it out of habit or to consciously to help the environment.

While we may be used to seeing recycling-only bins or bins dedicated to sanitary waste, the need to to prevent needlestick injuries and cross-contamination has seen a rise in sharps disposal bins. Though many people working in medical industries will be familiar with sharps bins and sharps disposal, those having never worked in such sectors may be unfamiliar with what a sharps bin looks like, why they are important and where you can find them.

Where Would Sharps Bins Usually Be Found?

The term ‘sharps’ refers to any sort of waste that has the ability to pierce or puncture the skin. This definition does not necessarily refer to items that are specifically designed to puncture the skin, but in industries where such waste is most common, the sharps are usually designed for this purpose.

To prevent these items from being disposed of alongside general waste, sharps bins are colour coded to ensure that the waste is correctly handled and segregated. This ensures that those responsible for handling sharps waste are not at risk of needlestick injuries, or even contracting a disease because of contaminated bodily fluids. Proper segregation and disposal of sharps waste also significantly reduces the risk of sharp objects and harmful substances making their way into rivers, streams and seas and putting wildlife at risk.

Not all sharps bins are used for medical purposes, however. The beauty industry is also obliged to invest in sharps bins if they are using instruments that can pierce or puncture. This means that tattoo parlours, piercing studios and places providing cosmetic procedures such as botox or microblading are in need of sharps disposal bins on their premises.

Unfortunately, there are many circumstances in which sharps bins are needed outside of business or medical environments. Recreational drug use has become an increasingly important issue for businesses and local communities, and the waste generated from drug use is a major public safety issue. In the last few years, companies and councils in the UK and overseas have started to see the need for these facilities in order to help protect their communities from harmful substances and injuries.

Finding Sharps Disposal in Public Bathrooms  

Public bathrooms have long been places where recreational drug use occurs, particularly where they are easily accessible, fully enclosed, and available to non-customers. Unfortunately, the waste left by drug users in public bathrooms can pose a serious public health risk, with needles and syringes either left lying around or disposed of unsafely.

At present, hypodermic needles (which contain not only traces of bodily fluids, but also harmful drugs) are being disposed of in general waste, nappy bins, sanitary bins, or sometimes even simply discarded on the bathroom floor after use. In an attempt to tackle this safety issue, Starbucks recently announced plans to introduce sharps bins into its stores, in order to protect its staff and customers from any sharps waste left in its bathrooms.

The decision came after staff members had petitioned for needle disposal bins following needlestick injuries that had occured during waste disposal. In the USA specifically, after-exposure shots for injuries such as these can become incredibly expensive. Just one round of these injections can cost an uninsured staff member $2,000, not including any tests and medications that may be needed if any risk of infection is found.

Unfortunately, this not an issue universal to Starbucks, or even American businesses. The UK also has a persistent problem with drug use in public bathrooms, and some locations, such as Bodmin, have already approved the installation of sharps bins in public bathrooms. A spokesperson for the town council stated that this was in an effort to protect local communities, who are at risk of injury when attempting to either use the facilities or to clean up the needles themselves.

Sharps Disposal in Open Spaces

A slightly more controversial area that sharps bins have been appearing in is wide open public spaces, such as parks and public streets. These areas also see a great deal of recreational drug use, the evidence of which is often left on the ground or hidden in the grass, where it poses an even greater risk.

Towns such as Windsor, on the Canadian border, have announced plans to install clearly labelled “needle bins” in order to tackle the growing opioid crisis. Within the UK, communities such as Leamington have also come together to demand solutions, in the hopes of keeping local people safe from dangerous sharps waste.

These local volunteers, who have named themselves ‘Leam Trash Friends’, have found hundreds of needles discarded in public spaces, some even meters from a local primary school. Having collected 430 needles in a sharps bin, the group has even created a GoFundMe page to raise money for better equipment that will keep themselves as well as their community safe.

Why Is This Important?

Installing sharps bins in public has been and remains a very controversial topic for many people. For many, the logical conclusion drawn is that by installing these facilities, local councils and businesses are endorsing illegal drug use, or at the very least simply addressing the symptom, rather than the cause.

However, installing sharps bins in public spaces does not necessarily mean that councils support illegal drug use. As the council members of Bodmin have stated, it is simply acknowledging that these issues are a reality, and that local communities must be kept safe from harmful waste that is left in waste bins or on the ground. This is especially vital when sharps waste is left in areas that are typically populated by children, such as near schools or in parks.

As large companies like Starbucks make steps to help tackle this public safety issue, the awareness of these issues also increases. Though stories of local communities coming together to tackle this issue are heartwarming, this attention should encourage  more local councils and businesses to take responsibility in funding sharps disposal bins, and serve the public places that are most at risk.

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