Along with diabetes management comes the responsibility of managing medical waste. Here's what to do with your used lancets, test strips, and insulin needles.
Millions of Americans live with lifelong medical conditions that require them to purchase medical supplies and begin a new routine to manage those conditions. Many people may find it challenging to adjust to having a serious medical responsibility added to their already busy schedule.
Diabetes in particular often requires several medical supplies to manage it well, and it can feel very intensive at first to start testing blood sugar and self-administering insulin shots or taking regular oral medication, paired with learning about the different diabetes supplies involved in self-care.
Part of the responsibilities that come with these new supplies includes proper disposal of them after use. You may recall seeing a special container in your physician’s office labeled “sharps disposal” or “medical waste.” This container, typically made of metal or hard plastic, is specifically for the disposal of used needles, lancets, other sharps, and any other used medical supply that’s come into contact with someone’s bodily fluids, particularly blood. These used supplies are isolated in order to protect public health; for example, throwing a used needle directly into the trash poses the risk of someone sticking themselves with it, just as someone coming into contact with a blood sample may become infected with bloodborne pathogens.
Overall, proper disposal of sharps and medical waste is not only a matter of being responsible for your own hazardous materials, but also a matter of doing your part to maintain public health and safety.
Many people also may be self-conscious or may lack self-confidence in their ability to use a lancet or syringe, which can lead to painful accidents that can even further discourage them from being confident in their own routines.
A Quick Brief on Diabetes
Diabetes is a serious disease affecting a significant proportion of the total American population. It has become relatively common in the United States; as of 2018, 34.2 million Americans live with diabetes--that’s 10.5% of the population. Of the 34.2 million adults with diabetes, 26.8 million were diagnosed, and 7.3 million were undiagnosed. Nearly 1.6 million Americans have type 1 diabetes, including about 187,000 children and adolescents.
One of the primary means of diabetes management is usually self-monitoring and self-administration: regular monitoring of one’s blood sugar, paired with oral diabetes medications and/or insulin injections, if necessary. Navigating this new and important responsibility with accurate information is very important for those who may be newly diagnosed with diabetes.
If this is a condition you or a loved one are facing, it is imperative to take treatment and associated sharps disposal seriously. An important part of this responsibility includes the safe and proper disposal of supplies when you’re done using them. Diabetes can be a lifelong condition, and mastering self-management is essential to maintaining a high quality of life and independence.
What are Lancets and Test Strips Used For
Lancets are small, short needles encased in plastic, and are used to puncture the skin to obtain a blood sample. Standard lancets fit inside a lancing device designed to make the finger prick quick and painless. Single-use lancets, often referred to as “safety lancets,” are also available and can help avoid accidental puncture.
After the skin has been punctured, a small bead of blood will surface, which can then be collected using a glucose test strip. Glucose test strips are designed to absorb the blood sample into a sample chamber. There it is mixed with an enzyme and the glucose meter runs an electrical current through the mixture. The level of resistance to the current that the mixture has calculates a blood sugar reading. Then, based on that reading, the user can determine what action they may need to take to regulate their blood sugar levels.
Here are some helpful tips to remember if you are new to the self-management of diabetes, or if you have another condition that requires regular blood testing.
Dispose of needles immediately.
Once you have finished using your lancets, test strips, and, if needed, syringes, immediately dispose of them as they are now considered a biohazard, i.e. hazardous medical waste.
It is important to take this seriously.
Do not attempt to clean and re-use lancets or syringes with alcohol or any other anti-bacterial solution.
Medical needles have a protective coating that aids the entry of the needle or lancet into skin. Any attempt to clean a needle will remove the coating. Needles will also become dull after the first stick, making reuse painful and increasing the risk of contamination or infection.
Never share needles.
Use once and immediately dispose of all waste. Not only do needles become dull after use, but they have also come into contact with bodily fluids that have the potential to spread bloodborne pathogens. Protect yourself and others by making sure you only use your own, new needles, and that you properly dispose of your used needles so that they are not easily accessible by others for reuse.
Proper Hazardous Waste and Sharps Disposal
Proper disposal is being considerate of others. Leaving hazardous medical waste around is risky for anyone, particularly children who may not be aware of the risks and safety hazards. Hazardous waste is not something you should be re-using. Make sure to dispose of per instructions and label!
Always dispose of medical waste after single-use.
Do not clip used needles or alter it as this is prone to an entirely new set of risks. Safe needle disposal is just disposing of the entire needle, preferably with the cap on. The same idea goes for lancets--do not try to alter the lancet for re-use.
To properly dispose of your used lancets and needles, you need a robust container that can be completely sealed and accurately labeled--you can also use this same container to dispose of your test strips as well, but be sure to follow any disposal instructions that are specific to your test strips.
Containers that are sufficient for sharps and hazardous waste disposal are heavy plastic containers like detergent bottles (must be puncture-proof) or metal or plastic boxes with a fastening sealing mechanism. You can also find containers specifically made for this type of disposal at stores and pharmacies. Never use glass or a clear plastic bottle like a water bottle or drink bottle, and always seal containers with heavy duct tape to ensure they stay safely closed.
Label the container USED SHARPS: DO NOT RECYCLE. Keep the container out of the reach of children or other vulnerable populations.
You should also always check the particular rules of your specific locality for disposing of syringes, pen needles, lancets, used test strips, or other hazardous waste. You should never dispose of medical waste directly in regular trash without first placing them in an appropriately sealed container as mentioned above.
When you travel, you need to take your sharps containers with you and make sure you don’t violate the local laws of the area you are traveling in.
You can check with your local health department or this site for additional information.
You can also check support groups and resources within your community. Many communities have dedicated waste collection sites for compliant, labeled sharp containers. You may even be able to have someone come and pick it up for you. In areas with no medical waste handling, you might be able to mail your sharps container to designated collection sites. If you end up doing this, check the U.S. Postal Service guidelines for shipping hazardous medical waste.
Keep everyone safe by practicing safe disposal of your used diabetes supplies.
Pointers to Help You Adjust
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, it may take some getting used to.
While any new process can seem intimidating or overwhelming, you may find it helpful to write down each step of the process, including each step for proper disposal, as you get adjusted to your new routines.
We also suggest taking advantage of using online resources to further educate yourself about diabetes management. You may also want to connect with either an online community or in-person community of others living with the same condition, who can relate to you and provide guidance and advice. This type of support and community paired with taking the time to read informative blogs and guides can be an invaluable resource toward living with the highest quality of life possible, and can make a positive difference in how you handle your diabetes.
Proper disposal of medical waste is not just about following the rules or inconveniencing anyone--it’s about protecting the community and the ones we love. With a little planning and dedication, anyone can easily integrate these essential steps for diabetes management and proper disposal into their everyday routine.