Reusable sharps containers making healthcare safer and greener

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Plastic disposable sharps containers account for a significant portion of the total sharps waste stream. In recent years the amount of sharps waste has been compounded with the adoption of sharps safety devices (safety needles) which can be much bulkier resulting in a need for more frequent container switch outs or a need for larger disposable sharps containers. The cardboard packaging that disposable sharps containers are received in at a hospital also adds to the waste stream.

Hospitals are always considering “continuous improvement initiatives” and one area usually under review is the volume of medical waste generated. There are existing sharps container systems that can greatly improve handling and result in processing improvements for areas within a health care facility.

Many hospitals are choosing to switch from disposable sharps containers to reusable sharps containers for two main reasons. First assuming the hospital chooses the right container it is much safer to use, and second, reusable sharps containers are much better for the environment. Certainly worth mentioning an additional benefit of switching to reusable sharps containers is that in most situations, using reusable sharps containers is less costly than using disposable sharps containers.

Environmentally greener

Reusable means just that, containers are reused and not thrown out after one use. The way the process works is that reusable sharps containers, once full are removed from the health care facility and are taken to a processing facility where the containers are automatically emptied. The contents (sharps waste) is treated as biomedical waste and the now empty sharps container conveyed through a washer where it is hygienically cleaned to exceed infection control requirements. The sharps containers are then ready to be used again.

The environmental impact is greatly minimized, as the hospital can reuse these containers and does not have to purchase additional supplies of disposable sharps container. Reusable sharps containers greatly reduce the amount of plastic waste that a hospital generates.  By way of example, on an annual basis, for every 100 occupied beds, the use of reusable sharps containers will: reduce the generation of plastic waste by approximately 3200 kilograms, as well as, reduce cardboard waste by 330 kilograms and eliminate the manufacture of disposable sharps containers by 4691 units each year.

The elimination of disposable sharps containers helps to preserve resources that would have been used to constantly manufacture additional disposable sharps containers. The use of reusable sharps containers can make a significant contribution to the reduction of a hospital’s carbon foot print.

Safer

The absolute most important requirement of any sharps container is safety. The manufacturing cost of reusable containers is spread over many uses not just one use, as the manufacturing cost of a disposable sharps containers is. This enables the manufacture of reusable sharps containers to incorporate many intelligent safety features that will significantly reduce the risk of sharps injuries to all hospital staff and patients. A large opening that accommodates horizontal drop with restricted hand access, puncture proof material, leak proof, tamper proof locks, overfill protection and convenient carrying handle are just some of the features that are incorporated into reusable sharps containers. A well engineered reusable sharps container can be proven to reduce accidental sharps injuries. Fewer needle sticks means fewer staff members going through accidental needle stick protocol and resulting in less absentee time.

What to look for in reusable containers

When a hospital is considering switching to reusable sharps containers the number one criteria to consider is the quality of the reusable container itself.

Make sure the container is well tested and proven to work in the many different hospital settings where sharps containers are used, such as patient rooms, ERs or ORs. The container should have a proven and successful track record of use in healthcare facilities. The sharps container should comply with recognized standards. The Canadian Standard Association’s Z316.6-07 “Evaluation ofSingle Use and Reusable Medical Sharps Containers for Biohazardous and Cytotoxic Waste” is very thorough and one of the most demanding standards in the world today. When evaluating a new reusable sharps container system a hospital would be well served to demand a container that meets or exceeds this CSA standard.

When choosing a reusable sharps container system you are also choosing a service provider. It would be in your facilities best interest to choose a company that has experience with reusable sharps containers. Make sure their representatives are knowledgeable about biomedical waste regulations and occupational health and safety standards as it pertains to sharps containers. Are they available to support you and the reusable sharps container system?

Additional details to consider are: who does the install, are they experienced at switching sharps container systems? Will the conversion be disruptive to patients and hospital staff? Can they provide training and when do they provide training? Can they work unsupervised or do they need constant follow up?

Switching sharps container systems is a good time to upgrade or improve sharps container locations and or coverage. Can they make recommendation for improvement and work with your staff to satisfy a unit’s specific sharps container needs. You have to feel comfortable with the company’s level of professionalism and their service track record.

Summary

A hospital can realize significant benefits from switching from disposable sharps containers to reusable sharps containers. Each hospital’s situation is unique but in most cases there are cost savings available by switching to reusable sharps containers. A well engineered reusable sharps container is designed to be safer.

Reusable sharps containers have been proven to reduce accidental needle sticks in clinical trials. Last but certainly not least, reusable sharps containers greatly reduce the amount of plastic waste a hospital generates as well reduces packaging waste. Reusable sharps containers are a green product that significantly contributes to the reduction of a hospitals carbon footprint.

Making the switch from disposable to reusable sharps containers will produce beneficial results for a health care facility by way of improvement in several different criteria.