Starting this week, multiple sites throughout Oklahoma will collect used medical sharps (needles, syringes, lancets, and other home-generated sharps) from residents free of charge. This collection is part of a pilot program developed and implemented by the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) and the Oklahoma Meds and Sharps Disposal Committee (OMSDC), with grant support from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The six-month program, launching on the heels of National Diabetes Awareness Month, aims to protect public health and the environment by increasing infrastructure for safe medical sharps collection and disposal.

“In addition to the public health and environmental risks, medical sharps that are thrown in the trash can pose a safety hazard to sanitation workers,” said Patrick Riley, environmental programs manager for solid waste and sustainability at DEQ. “We know that safe collection sites are needed, and this program will demonstrate exactly how they can be operated.”

PSI estimates that more than 108,000 Oklahoma residents use sharps to manage medical conditions like diabetes at home, generating between 20 and 50 million needles per year, and thousands of Oklahomans use syringes to inject controlled substances. Nationwide, 7% of needles are flushed, and an estimated 3 billion sharps enter the municipal solid waste stream each year as trash. They pose grave health and safety risks to residents, sanitation workers, sewage treatment plant operators, waste management personnel, and hospitality workers.

“When medical sharps are improperly disposed of — whether in the trash or flushed down the toilet — they are dangerous for families, communities, and our environment, and many end up littering public streets and parks,” said Scott Cassel, chief executive officer and founder of PSI. “We’re excited to partner with the participating organizations, as well as vendors like Capital Waste Solutions and Stericycle, to mitigate these impacts and provide convenient options for residents in several Oklahoma communities to safely dispose of their sharps.”

The pilot collection program is informed by PSI’s how-to guide: “Building a Municipal Program for Home-Generated Medical Sharps: A Guide for Oklahoma Municipalities.” The guide, created with grant funding from DEQ, provides step-by-step support for Oklahoma municipalities establishing medical sharps collection programs for residents and will be expanded with lessons learned from the pilot collection programs. Research for the guide highlighted the lack of infrastructure for medical sharps collection and led to this pilot program.

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