FLAGSTAFF, ARIZ.-- – An unintended consequence of COVID-19 has been a surge in new trash, from face masks, wipes, and gloves to now used syringes. As millions of vaccines roll out daily, the process of disposing of needles safely and efficiently can be quite the task.
The process of needles or "sharps" disposal must follow certain guidelines. In Arizona, those are outlined by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
"The primary concern is sticking hazards, making sure that folks aren't getting injured," Terry Baer, ADEQ Waste Programs Division Section Manager Solid/ Hazardous Waste, said.
The most common methods of disposal are grinding, burying, or autoclaving, a process that steam cleans the needles before disposal.
"With a large number like this, it's important that there are a vast number of opportunities that are available to organizations," Baer said.
Some companies are trying more environmentally-friendly methods. OnSite Waste Technologies out of California said their latest device can save time, money and resources by compressing up to 200 needles at once into a safe brick. The company said 38 states are already using the method.
"All of the sharps waste that's taking place today, we can treat it immediately right on the site, and we turn it into regular trash," Brad Barnes, CEO of OnSite Waste Technologies said.
The company estimates about 660 million syringes are needed to inoculate the entire U.S. population. If laid end to end, that would create enough waste to wrap around the earth about 1.8 times. Their containers can condense the needle waste by around 80%. It uses thermal heat to treat the waste so it’s safe to throw away into the landfill.
"It will take about 3.6 million volumes of carbon emission, we reduce that down to about 200,000 levels of emission," Barnes said.