By Kirk Starratt
They don’t want workers going home injured from the job and they want the public to know there are alternatives for the proper disposal of dangerous sharp items.
Officials with Valley Waste Resource Management (VWRM) and Scotia Recycling are speaking out after several recent incidents of curbside collectors and sorting line workers being jabbed by sharp items disposed inappropriately, including needles and syringes.
VWRM Manager of Policy and Planning Brian Van Rooyen said the most recent incident occurred Thursday, July 2 when a worker with EFR Disposal collecting at a cottage bin in East Dalhousie was pricked by a large needle with a syringe. A number of knives had been disposed improperly at the same location.
Van Rooyen said the collector was, of course, quite concerned and informed his employers of the Occupational Health and Safety incident then went to the hospital for testing. Needle pricks result in a great deal of anxiety and victims run the risk of any number of infections. You just don’t know where the sharps have been.
Waits anxiously for blood test results “You can probably imagine what is going through his mind as he waits for the results of blood tests and tests on the needle,” Van Rooyen said, pointing out there have been other incidents of sorters at the recycling facility being jabbed by needles in blue bags in the past year. When this reporter attended the Scotia Recycling facility in Kentville to observe Monday afternoon, July 6, a worker sorting through recyclables found within 10 minutes two handfuls of used syringes in a pop bottle. “We want people to be aware there are alternatives and to take the appropriate care,” Van Rooyen said, pointing out that sharps are a rather broad category.
They can include needles, the most common of which discovered are those used for injecting insulin; lancets for taking blood; knives; broken glass; sharp pieces of metal; wire; or any other object that could stick out and injure a collector or sorting worker.
He said some people think if the items are plastic or metal they should go in with the other recyclables, but this is very dangerous, even if you put them inside a pop bottle, for example.
Sometimes, on the sorting line, information identifying the person responsible for the placing the sharps in the recycling bag is found. Some individuals are tracked down and some are unaware that their sharps disposal method is inappropriate. The light then comes on for these people and they usually modify their practices.
Province-wide program for safe disposal
For people using needles and syringes for insulin, Van Rooyen said there is a province-wide program sponsored by the pharmacy association where people can get a heavy plastic disposal container for free. You bring it back to the pharmacy once it’s filled and get a new one. Van Rooyen says people have to go to the pharmacy to get their needles anyway.
Old knives and broken glass should be wrapped in cardboard or carpet to protect workers from jagged edges. Larger amounts of broken glass, from windows, for example, should be put inside a cardboard box labeled “Broken Glass” and taped up securely. The box should be set aside separately from other garbage.
VWRM Communications Coordinator Andrew Garrett said there is a large amount of handling involved with waste resources and it isn’t all handled by machinery. “The personal nature of sorting waste exposes them to dangers when they’re handling bags,” he said of collectors and sorting line workers, who only have a brief moment to look and see what’s in there.
Garrett said, aside from residential sharps, there are also sharps coming from veterinarians, dentists, tattoo parlors and farms. If people discarding sharps in the course of their work store these items in a heavy plastic container through which the items can’t poke and bring them to the VWRM management centre in Kentville or Lawrencetown, they can dispose of the items for free. The items will then be taken to the landfill for proper disposal. Garrett said there is a sharps take-back program for farms.
Pop bottles not a good idea
Putting items like needles and syringes in pop bottles isn’t a good idea because the items could shoot out in the event the bottle was run over by the loader, for example. For this reason sharps containers should be brought in separately and never disposed of with other waste. Once again, the container could be crushed somehow in the sorting process and the sharps could become projectiles.
Scotia Recycling Supervisor Trevor Morine said he recalls a recent incident where a worker on the sorting line lifted his gloved hand to him to show a fishhook with line still attached that had penetrated through the rubber, but luckily didn’t stab into his finger. The facility processes about 13,000 tonnes of material every year. “We find sharps on the sorting belt everyday without fail,” he said, pointing out materials are constantly being jostled and moved around. Used needles and syringes are perhaps the scariest items they encounter. “The potential is always there. The nature of sorting puts you at risk.”