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County Warns of Dangers of Placing Medical Waste in Recycling Bins

The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection and its Division of Solid Waste has been discovering an increase in medical waste being placed in curbside recycling bins by residents. These materials are not acceptable in the County’s recycling program and DSWS is reminding residents that their medical suppliers can provide the best methods of disposal of medical waste items.

Medical waste items may contaminate an entire bin of acceptable recyclable materials and, if collected, pose significant danger to the health and safety of the employees that collect recycling from single-family homes and townhomes. These items also endanger employees that process and sort materials at the County’s Recycling Center in Derwood.

Examples of medical waste items that have been found inappropriately mixed in with recyclable materials at the Recycling Center include plastic intravenous fluid (IV) bags, plastic respirator and medical equipment tubing, CPAP masks and syringes (including sharps used for injections and plastic syringes used for flushing IV lines). These items should never be placed into blue recycling bins for recycling collection.

While many items for medical use at home may be made of plastic, they are most likely contaminated with blood, bodily fluids or other infectious materials—all of which pose significant health risks to others.

If a County contractor that collects recycling notices medical waste in a curbside bin, the contractor is instructed to not collect any of the recyclables in the bin and to leave a tag explaining why the materials were not collected.

“The safety of our employees and contractors, as well as all others, is of utmost importance,” said Patty Bubar, acting director of DEP. “Any inappropriately placed syringes and other medical waste in recycling bins are hazardous to the health and safety of our workers, so we are asking residents to be aware of the risks, to know our recycling guidelines and to keep these items out of their recycling bins.”

Residents who receive home health care services and who are unsure of how to properly dispose of medical waste are encouraged to contact their physician’s office, local hospital, home health care provider or other supplier of medical products for information on proper disposal of medical waste materials.

One example of proper disposal of medical waste used at home involves programs for items such as syringes. In addition to the medical items, those programs also provide patients with containers to allow for the safe disposal of waste materials. Used syringes are placed in a rigid plastic container, the cap or lid of the disposal container is then placed back on it and then the container is taped securely shut. The secured container is then to be placed in the regular household trash bag or trash container.

Secured containers of syringes should never be placed into recycling bins, even if the empty container may have previously been recyclable by itself.

Photo by Germantown Pulse