City combatting medical waste injury

The City of Sydney has been recognised for a community project that has kept more than 10,000 used syringes and other sharp medical waste materials out of the regular garbage collection system, where they pose a risk to workers and the public.

The City won the Local Government Excellence in Environment Award in Community Sharps Management for the project, a collaboration between the City, NSW Government agencies, the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District and the residents of the Northcott social housing community.

“Safe disposal of so-called ‘sharps’ is an increasingly important issue in the community as rising numbers of people are managing medical conditions, such as diabetes, at home,” the City’s Safe City Manager, Lisa Simone, said.

“Hospitals and medical centres have special bins so these items can be disposed of properly, but sharps generated by people at home often end up in the household garbage, where they can pose a risk to cleansing and recycling workers.

“This award recognises a project that shows if people are given safe options to deal with sharps, they will use them, and make a real difference to their community. The residents support for this project was crucial to its success, and I congratulate everyone involved.”

As part of the Sustainable Action Values Everyone (SAVE) project, the City installed two community sharps bins in the Northcott community for a one-year trial and ran an education program about how and why to safely dispose of sharps.

The trial diverted 10,710 sharps from the domestic waste stream and public places around the Northcott precinct, in Surry Hills. Some 60 per cent of the sharps collected were from the management of medical conditions at home.

The success of the trial means the bins will stay in the community.

“This award is well-deserved recognition for the comprehensive approach the City is taking to community sharps management,” Ms. Simone said.

“We have captured more than 97 per cent of discarded sharps waste in our local government area through our network of highly efficient community sharps bins.”

Any medical instruments or devices that have points or edges capable of cutting, piercing or penetrating the skin are considered sharps, including syringes, needles and lancets – the small medical tools used to take ‘pinprick’ blood samples.

NSW Health estimated in 2004 more than 18 million pen needles and syringes were distributed in the State under the National Diabetes Services Scheme, and even more lancets were given to people with diabetes, who use them to monitor their blood glucose levels.

Another 10 million syringes are distributed annually for other injecting drug users.

An estimated 20 million of these needles and syringes end up in local council waste or recycling services each year, and a small number are dropped in public places. Health experts say while the risk of infection from a needlestick injury is statistically very low, the associated stress can be significant.

The annual Local Government Excellence in Environment Awards is run by the Local Government Association of NSW (LGSA) to recognise outstanding achievements by local councils in managing and protecting the environment.

LGSA President, Keith Rhoades, said that in the 15 years of the Environment Awards, the quality and innovative thinking behind many of the nominated projects has improving constantly.

“The large number of high calibre nominations received addressing a range of environmental issues, such as climate change, water conservation and sustainable procurement, clearly demonstrates how the NSW Local Government sector is leading the way in best environmental practice,” Cr Rhoades said.

For more information, contact City of Sydney Senior Media Adviser Rohan Sullivan, phone 02 9246 7298 or 0414 617 086, or email