Medical Waste Industry Insights

How to Clean Up Needles and Medical Waste in Your Community

By David Ryan

Proper disposal of medical waste in your practice or business is one thing, but what about in your community?

Newspapers today are filled with headlines about the opioid crisis. The headlines become particularly disturbing when they include needles and other waste found in public places - especially playgrounds and areas often inhabited by children.

Protect yourself: Always assume needles contain an infectious agent (like HIV or Hepatitis).


Whenever you encounter used needles or other presumed drug / medical waste, assume the worst and act accordingly - even if it belongs to a relative or other known person. Taking extra precaution can prevent serious complications for you, your family or someone else in your community down the line.

Then what?

Follow these steps whenever you encounter a loose needle or other medical waste in your community:

  • Secure and clear the area of people, especially children. Although it may seem obvious, people are going about their day and may not realize they are in a potentially serious situation. Make it clear there is a threat present and ensure others avoid the contaminated site. If you can, find someone else nearby to keep people away while you follow the remaining steps.
  • Call the local police or fire department. In many communities, first responders are trained to properly handle and dispose of medical waste. If first responders aren’t able to help, sometimes your local Board of Health can also be of assistance. The police or fire department should at the very least be able to point you in the right direction.
  • If you are unable to get assistance, you may decide to clean up the hazard at your own risk. It cannot be overstated that cleanup and handling of medical waste is highly dangerous and you should always proceed with caution. Taking action yourself in this type of situation is as at your own risk. It is best to always exhaust other options before attempting to clean up medical waste. If you determine that self cleanup is the only recourse, be sure someone keeps the surrounding area clear while you dispose of the waste.

If you determine you must remove the needle or other medical waste yourself, follow these steps (again, please note this is at your own risk).

  • Wear nitrile gloves. These can be purchased at most neighborhood drug stores and help you avoid skin contact with potential surface contaminants. Protecting your skin is critical -- besides containing bloodborne pathogens (like HIV), needles are often used to abuse intravenous drugs like heroin and fentanyl. Some drugs, including fentanyl, can actually be absorbed through the skin. Even in low doses, this could cause overdose and even death.
  • Avoid touching the object directly at all. Whenever possible, use a dustpan and broom, grabbers / tongs or something similar to pick up the object. Avoiding all contact provides an extra layer of protection against any sort of pathogen or contaminant.
  • Don’t throw needles into a water bottle. It may seem like the easiest and most accessible place to throw away a needle, but water or detergent bottles have small openings. If the needle misses entry, it can stick you while falling away from the container. It may seem far fetched, but even in controlled care settings like hospitals, over 30% of all needlestick injuries happen at the point of disposal / sharps container. Find a container with a wide opening instead and use this to dispose of the waste.
  • Contact first responders for proper disposal. Once the needle or medical waste is contained, do not throw the needle or medical waste in the regular trash. Disposing of medical waste in this manner can endanger lives. Instead, contact your local Board of Health or first responders to seek proper disposal. In Massachusetts, it is a state mandate that all communities offer a disposal option. There is somewhere safe for you to dispose of the needle or medical waste. Many EMT services or other first response services may facilitate proper disposal for you. If they cannot dispose of the waste for you, they should be able to tell you how to find your local disposal option.

Proper care and precaution are essential.


Needles and medical waste are increasingly common sources of pollution in our parks, streets, and even school playgrounds. As our country continues to battle the opioid epidemic, protecting our communities is essential. Following these steps when you encounter dangerous needles and medical waste can help keep your loved ones and neighbors safe.

At United Medical Waste, we are proud to help combat this issue in the communities we serve throughout New England. If you are interested developing a local action plan with your community, contact us for assistance.


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