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How to Dispose of Sharps

Learn how to properly manage sharps.

Definition

Sharps are devices or objects with corners, edges, or projections capable of cutting or piercing skin or regular waste bags. State and local laws regulate disposal of sharps to protect waste handlers from both physical and contamination hazards.

Examples of sharps include:

  • Hypodermic needles, syringes, tubing
  • Blunted needles
  • Pasteur pipettes
  • Blades (scalpels, razors, microtomes)
  • Broken lab glassware
  • Microscope slides
  • Glass capillary tubes

Training

Get trained before using sharp devices. Improper use and poor technique can increase your risk of a sharps exposure or other injuries. Receive proper training from senior personnel on techniques and equipment specific to your lab setting before conducting a procedure involving biological or other hazardous materials.

Storage and Use

When applicable:

  • Secure sharps with a magnet
  • Store razor blades in a petri dish
  • Put needles into cork and do not recap needles
  • Avoid placing sharps on the bench
  • Store a sharps waste container near where the sharps are generated.

Disposal

How these objects should be disposed of — whether by Environment, Health & Safety, by the biohazardous waste disposal firm UCSD contracts with, or in the regular trash — depends on whether they are contaminated with a hazardous material and the type of contamination. Separating sharps by type of contamination is required by law.

For disposal purposes, there are 4 kinds of sharps:

  • Non-contaminated (except needles, syringes and lancets)
  • Biohazardous (includes non-contaminated needles, syringes, and lancets)
  • Chemically contaminated
  • Radioactive

Whether contaminated or not, specific packaging and container restrictions apply. Follow specific disposal procedures below.

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Non-contaminated

These sharps must be free of any biohazard, chemical, or radioactive contamination.

  • Container

    • Choose a rigid, leak-proof, puncture-resistant sharps container. Containers sold on Marketplace fit most needs.
    • Remove or deface any labels or biohazard symbols that may be on the container.
  • Store/Use

    • Store the container near where the sharps are generated.
    • Carefully place sharps in the container in an orderly fashion.
    • Do not place free liquids, such as full syringes, in sharps containers.
    • Sharps cannot extend above the "fill" line.
  • Disposal

    • Seal the full container with tape so it can't be easily opened.
    • Place the sealed container in the regular trash.

Note: Custodial staff will not collect boxes of broken glass weighing more than 50 pounds.

Biohazardous contaminated

When in use, biohazardous waste bags must be stored and transported in a secondary container. A secondary container can be any color and has to comply with the following:

  • Rigid
  • Leak resistant
  • Tight-fitting cover

Note: Wire rack hangers are not an appropriate secondary container for biohazard waste bags in research labs. 

  • Container

    • Select a rigid (puncture-resistant ), leak-resistant and tight-fitting container. Sharps containers available on Marketplace fit most needs.
    • The words "Biohazard Waste"; or International biohazard symbol and the word "Biohazard"

Sharps box with biohazard symbol

  • Labeling

    • Label the sharps container with the international biohazard symbol and UCSD identification information:
  • Store/Use

    • Do not place free liquids, such as full syringes, in sharps containers.
    • Sharps cannot extend above the "fill" line.
  • Disposal

    • Place the full sharps container in your department's designated biohazardous waste collection area to have it autoclaved, deactivated, or hauled for destruction. Ask your lab manager for instructions.
    • For autoclaving information, read Autoclaving Guidelines for Biohazardous Waste.

Read Biohazardous and Medical Waste Overview for more information about biohazardous waste disposal. See Biohazardous Containers and Bags for more details. 

Find approved biohazard bags, sharps containers, plastic pasteur pipets and needles for your lab. The Research Safety Buyer's Guide is updated with products that meet ASTM standards.

Chemically contaminated

These sharps have chemical contamination only — no radioactive or infectious contaminants.

  • Container

    • Select a rigid, leak-proof, puncture-resistant container. Containers sold on Marketplace fit most needs.
  • Labeling

    • Label the container with a hazardous waste tag.
    • Remove or deface any other labels or biohazard symbols on the container.
  • Store/Use

    • Store the container near where the waste is generated.
    • Deactivate any infectious agents on sharps before placing them in the container.
    • Carefully place sharps in the container in an orderly fashion.
    • Do not place liquids, such as full syringes, in sharps containers.
    • Sharps cannot extend above the "fill" line.
  • Disposal

Radioactive

These are sharps contaminated with radioactive materials. They may also be contaminated with chemical or infectious materials, but must be handled first as radioactive waste.

  • Container

    • Select a rigid, leak-proof, puncture-resistant container. Containers available from Marketplace fit most needs.
  • Labeling

    • Remove or deface biohazard symbols that may be on the container.
    • Label the container with a hazardous waste tag. List all of the following information:
      • Isotope used
      • Any additional chemicals or biological hazards
      • Method of deactivation or disinfection used, if any
      • Mark the waste type as "other" and write SHARPS on the tag
  • Store/Use

    • Store the container near where the waste is generated.
    • Deactivate any infectious agents.
      Caution: Some isotopes may react with certain deactivation chemicals. For example, you don't want to bleach isotopes of iodine.
    • Do not place free liquids, such as full syringes, in sharps containers.
    • Sharps cannot extend above the "fill" line.
  • Disposal

    • When the container's full, seal it and move it to the lab's designated radioactive waste storage area.
    • Request a hazardous waste collection from EH&S.

Laboratory glassware (non-infectious & non-contaminated)

Laboratory glassware can easily cause injuries. Ensure that others aren't injured by improperly disposed broken glass. See the Laboratory Glassware Disposal page for detailed information when handling and disposing of non-infectious & non-contaminated glassware.

General storage and use guidelines

When applicable:

  • Secure sharps with a magnet
  • Store razor blades in a petri dish
  • Put needles into cork and do not recap needles
  • Avoid placing sharps on the bench
  • Store a sharps waste container near where the sharps are generated.
  • Deactivate any infectious agents
  • Do not place free liquids, such as full syringes, in sharps containers.
  • Sharps cannot extend above the "fill" line.

Training

Get trained before using sharp devices. Improper use and poor technique can increase your risk of a sharps exposure or other injuries. Receive proper training from senior personnel on techniques and equipment specific to your lab setting before conducting a procedure involving biological or other hazardous materials.

Contact an EH&S RAP member if you need more assistance.  

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Notice: Disposal of hazardous waste using sinks, intentional evaporation, or as regular trash is against the law. Campus laboratories must abide by strict state and federal waste disposal requirements. You may be held liable for violations of applicable laws.