There are specific management requirements for special waste to minimise the risk of harm to the environment and human health. It is the responsibility of waste generators to classify their wastes for appropriate management and disposal.
‘Sharps waste’ is defined and classified as ‘special waste’ under Schedule 1 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 and the EPA’s Waste Classification Guidelines.
What is sharps waste?
Under NSW environment protection legislation, sharps waste is defined as any waste collected from designated sharps waste containers used in the course of business, commercial or community service activities. This includes any waste resulting from the use of sharps for any of the following purposes:
- human health care by health professionals or health care providers (either at health facilities or at home)
- medical research or work on cadavers
- veterinary care or veterinary research
- skin penetration or the injection of drugs or other substances for medical or non-medical reasons.
‘Sharps’ means items that:
- have sharp points or edges capable of cutting, piercing, or penetrating the skin (such as needles, syringes with needles or surgical instruments)
- are designed for the purpose of cutting, piercing or penetrating the skin
- have the potential to cause injury or infection.
Not all sharps are classified as sharps waste.
What isn't sharps waste?
Sharps that do not fall within the definition of sharps waste include:
- sharps resulting from self-injection at private residences or public places that are not placed in a designated sharps container provided by a business, commercial or community service activity
- needle or syringe litter collected by council staff or contractors, or other public land managers.
The sharps listed above have been excluded from the definitions of sharps waste and special waste to facilitate the management of municipal solid waste. Classifying personal-use sharps that are inadequately disposed of into the municipal solid waste stream as special waste would add significant complexities and costs for councils.
How can I dispose of sharps?
All sharps users must do the right thing when disposing of their used sharps. The inappropriate disposal of sharps, including needles, syringes and lancets, represents a health risk to the whole community.
If you use sharps for self-administered medical care or non-medical use, you should always place your used sharps in an approved personal sharps waste container or a sharps waste container provided as part of a commercial or community service.
To find your nearest sharps disposal location or for more information about sharps disposal, contact your council, community health care provider or visit www.safesharps.org.au.
Refer to NSW Health: Community Sharps Management Guidelines for NSW Councils to find out how to manage sharps that enter your municipal sharps waste stream due to inadequate disposal practices.
Health professionals who regularly deal with sharps wastes, including larger facilities such as hospitals, day-procedure centres, pathology laboratories, mortuaries or medical research facilities must develop and implement a Clinical and Related Waste Management Plan in accordance with NSW Health: Waste Management Guidelines for Health Care Facilities.
Community organisations or businesses
If your community organisation or business provides a sharps disposal and collection service, you must comply with the same requirements as health professionals, and implement a Clinical and Related Waste Management Plan in accordance with NSW Health: Waste Management Guidelines for Health Care Facilities.
For more information on the disposal of sharps waste, contact your local council, community health provider or phone EPA's Environment Line on 131 555.
Page last updated: 16 January 2017