By Amanda Haffele
Proper disposal is important.
Safety is a priority when working, recreating, and in daily life. Therefore, it should be no surprise that we ask our residents to safely dispose of certain items. In this two-part series article (which could be many more), I’ll touch on the proper disposal of sharps, medications, electronics, and batteries. If improperly disposed of these items can have adverse health effects or can cause tragic or sometimes fatal fires.
Years ago, when I started my solid waste industry career, I worked in southern Illinois. One of our refuse haulers was pricked by a syringe while throwing refuse into the truck. He didn’t think much of it until his hand swelled twice its normal size. He went to the doctor, did a round of tests, and tested positive for hepatitis. This story eventually has a happy ending, but this isn’t the case for all accidental needle pricks.
A similar situation happened when I worked in western Wisconsin when an improperly sealed sharps container full of syringes released numerous used sharps while a staff member was carrying it to the truck for disposal. Thankfully it was winter, and the worker was wearing a thick coat and was unharmed. But it was a hazardous situation for the worker that could have easily been avoided.
To prevent such hazards, Portage County residents should always place sharps in a rigid, puncture-resistant container with a secure lid or cap like a sharps container, heavy plastic laundry detergent, or bleach bottle with a screw-on cap. Sharps containers can be found at a pharmacy, online, or at certain big box stores. Unacceptable containers include soda or water bottles, milk jugs, cardboard containers, or plastic bags. Such containers are not appropriate and pose a hazard to handlers.
Clearly label makeshift sharps containers with the words “bio-hazard”, “infectious waste” or “sharps.” Also, label detergent or bleach bottles with the words “Do not recycle” so they are not accidentally included with recyclables.
In 2021, we spend over $500 to properly dispose of sharps that were pulled off the recycling sort line. Five hundred dollars may seem like a small number to some, but once sharps are discovered on the sorting line the entire operation shuts down for as long as it takes to carefully remove, identify any additional hazards, and then place them into a proper container.
Sometimes this may take only a few minutes. Other times, it can be upwards of an hour of downtime to carefully comb through the recyclables and remove each individual syringe, needle, or lancet. This $500 can easily skyrocket when all other factors are added in or if a worker(s) was accidentally pricked.
Full sharps containers from a resident’s household may be dropped off for free at one of the following locations: Hometown Pharmacy in Stevens Point or Plover, Metro Market in Stevens Point or Plover, or the Portage County Material Recovery Facility in Plover.
Always make sure lids are tightly closed and containers are clearly labeled. This program is only for sharps generated in a residential home. All caregivers, pharmacies, assisted care facilities, nursing homes, and any other business must work directly with a sharps disposal company.
The Household Sharps Collection Program is paid for and sponsored by the Portage County Solid Waste Department, which appreciates the assistance and cooperation of the participating pharmacies.
On the evening of July 4, my husband and I came home after the fireworks to find our dog had knocked a vitamin bottle off the dresser, opened it, and consumed an unknown number of pills. We rushed him to the only pet hospital open that night where he stayed for two and a half days recovering. Thankfully, after some intense medication and lots of TLC, he made a full recovery.
Since then, we have been extra diligent in making sure all medications and vitamins are well out of reach of him and now our young children. Many times, young children are the ones that accidentally poison themselves because they mistake the colorful pills for candy.
Please help prevent accidental childhood or animal poisonings, substance abuse, and contamination of water resources by properly disposing of medications. Medications should never be flushed down the toilet. Wastewater treatment facilities are unable to remove medications from incoming water, therefore they will be discharged into our waterways.
Residents can take unwanted medication to the permanent drop-off receptacle located at the Portage County Sheriff’s Office or the Stevens Point or Plover Police Departments. This program is free and no questions or personal information is asked.
To help keep this program anonymous, we ask that pills be removed from prescription bottles and placed into a clear sealed plastic bag before dropping off. Liquid medications cannot be dropped off at these locations, but for a small fee can be brought to the Portage County Household Hazardous Waste Program that runs from March through mid-November.
Portage County Solid Waste wants to keep you safe as well as our workers. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the proper disposal of sharps or medication, please contact us at, (715) 343-6297 or [email protected].
Tune in next month when I dive into properly disposing of electronics and batteries.
Amanda Haffele is the Portage County Solid Waste Director. She works at the Material Recovery Facility, 600 Moore Rd., Plover, and can be reached at 715.343.6297 or [email protected].