Written by Laura Wakelam
16 Sep 2021

What Happens to Sharps Waste?

Any medical or healthcare facility that renders patient care is likely to have to deal with sharps waste at some point. Does your staff know the rules for sharps and sharps waste disposal? Is your facility compliant in not only identifying sharps waste, but how it is to be stored and ultimately disposed of?

Most know that sharps must be placed into a sharps container after use. But what happens to it afterward? Sharps waste can also be considered a biomedical waste, and such waste must also comply with federal, provincial, and municipal guidelines for disposal.
 

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TOPICS WE WILL COVER:

1 / Are Sharps Considere Biomedical Waste?
2 / The Sharps Disposal Process
3 / Who Makes the Rules?
4 / Sharps Containers
5 / Rendering Sharps Safe for Disposal
6 / Stay Safe and Stay Compliant with Daniels Health Canada



Are Sharps Considered Biomedical Waste?


Any facility that uses sharps should be aware of not only the regulations of the Canadian government, but of their provincial and municipal regulations as well. After all, sharps waste disposal doesn’t end when the used syringe or sharps is placed into a compliant sharps container. Sharps waste disposal is a process.

Sharps may often fall under the classification of biomedical waste, and at times, even hazardous waste. Biomedical waste is defined as any type of waste (human or animal) produced by a healthcare facility. In addition to federal guidelines, Canadian provinces and jurisdictions also have specific guidelines and regulations for biomedical waste management.

This is especially true when the sharp falls within the definitions of the government of Canada’s sixth classification of hazardous waste – toxic and infectious substances.

According to the guidelines, toxic substances may consist of a substance that is liable to cause death or serious injury or harm to human health swallowed or inhaled or if they come into contact with human skin.” Such substances can be oral, dermal, or inhaled. Needlestick injuries from infected or otherwise compromised individuals are the primary source of infection and contraction of serious illnesses for healthcare workers. Just a few dangers include HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis B and C, and other dangerous pathogens.

Infectious substances can include but are not limited to bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, or components that are “reasonably believed to cause disease in humans or animals…”



The Sharps Disposal Process


Ensure that your employees are aware of the rules and regulations for sharps disposal in your province, territory, and municipality. For example, British Columbia requires that "Before disposal to a sanitary landfill, it is recommended that waste sharps be immobilized by solidification or destroyed by incineration, or grinding and disinfection."

The National Standard of Canada/CSA Standard Z316.6-14 (Sharps injury protection – requirements and test methods – sharps containers) states that Sharps waste is disposed of directly into a puncture-resistant container in accordance with the National Standard of Canada.”

In addition, all containers must be compliant with federal guidelines. For example, sharps containers are colour-coded yellow and are to be labelled with the biohazard symbol. Colour-coding guidelines are generally applicable across provincial borders with yellow containers appropriate for waste sharps, human blood and body fluid waste (if applicable), and laboratory/microbiology waste.

Section 16.1.5 of the Canadian Biosafety Standards Guidelines handbook dealing with sharps waste states that sharps waste consists of needles, syringes, blades, or glass contaminated with infectious material and capable of causing puncture wounds or cuts.”

Sharps can also include pipettes and pipette tips that might have been contaminated before disposal. Scalpels, trocars, even broken medicine or lab glass is considered a sharp. Anything that can poke, stick, slash, cut, or slice is a sharp. Types of sharps devices most commonly involved in sharps injuries include:

  • Disposable syringes
  • Suture needles
  • Scalpel blades
  • IV stylets
     

Guidelines recommend that puncture-resistant containers be placed as close to the point of origin or use as possible in order to minimize risk of injury during handling.

All employees should know how any biological waste is to be handled and stored. Review section 16.2 of the Canadian Biosafety Standards Guidelines regarding collection and storage. For example, waste bags should be sealed, placed in leak-proof containers, and stored in a freezer, refrigerator, or cold room to await decontamination.”

Your provincial and municipal agencies should also have developed specific guidelines for medical waste streams, especially in regard to sharps, biomedical, and hazardous waste management in your province. While every province should follow federal guidelines, provincial regulations are also applicable. Both must be followed. Throughout Canada, provincial regulations are found on regional government websites.



Who Makes the Rules?


Numerous governmental agencies are responsible for developing sharps safety, handling, and disposal guidelines. In addition to the couple that have already been mentioned, refer to Chapters 16 through 20 of the Canadian Biosafety Handbook, 2nd edition for detailed information regarding definitions, packaging, segregating, and acceptable treatment options for biomedical waste regardless of provincial location of your medical or healthcare facility.

For example, regulations require that biomedical waste be segregated at its point of origin into one of the following waste categories:

  • Human anatomical waste
  • Animal waste
  • Microbiology laboratory waste
  • Human blood and bodily fluid waste
  • Sharps waste
     

 Cytotoxic and pharmaceutical wastes are also to be segregated from what remains of the waste stream, even though these last two are not specifically defined as biomedical waste.



Sharps Containers


Every province within Canada is required to follow specific instructions for medical waste disposal based on waste streams. As an example, in British Columbia disposal of sharps used in clinical settings requires that the containers must:

  • Be rigid
  • Be puncture resistant, with leak-proof sides and bottoms
  • Be labeled with the universal biohazard symbol and the word “biohazard” and colour-coded red or orange
  • Have a tightly fitting, puncture-proof closable lid
  • Be secure (contents do not spill)
  • Be easy to operate
     

Such containers are supposed to be located or mounted in close proximity to point of use. They must also be stored in an upright position. Sharps containers are replaced when approximately three quarters full (below the fill line clearly indicated on the container).



Rendering Sharps Safe for Disposal


Note that sharps waste is no longer considered biomedical waste once it has been effectively decontaminated. Throughout Canada, general practice is to disinfect sharps waste prior to disposal through autoclave, grinding, or incineration.

Autoclaving is a process that utilizes very hot steam for a specific period of time to decontaminate sharps waste. After it’s rendered non-infectious or potentially hazardous, the sharps can then be incinerated. Transportation of sharps waste that may contain infectious or toxic materials must be segregated from other medical waste prior to removal if it is to be taken to an appropriate facility for incineration and disposal.

This is especially true in pharmaceutical or laboratory or research facilities. If such materials are to be transported off-site, it’s important to know and follow the regulations of the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act (TDGA), the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations (TDGR), and the Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) administered by Transport Canada.

Every province and territory within Canadian borders has also adopted these guidelines as part of their own medical waste legislation practices. Refer to such documents for classification, labelling, packaging, and documentation requirements that are required for the transportation or shipment of biological materials and/or infectious substances within Canadian boundaries.



Stay Safe and Stay Compliant with Daniels Health Canada


Daniels Health Canada knows federal and provincial laws and guidelines for storage and disposal of sharps and other forms of biomedical waste. Processes for dealing with sharps waste may seem complicated, but the overall goal is to minimize risk of harm to not only healthcare personnel, but local communities and the environment. For more information on dealing with sharps waste, call us today.

 

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Laura Wakelam

Laura Wakelam

Chief Marketing Officer

Brand and Communications Curator of Daniels Health global group of companies, Laura is a strong believer in cause-driven brand identity and honest storytelling