Gold, Kathleen, R.N., M.S.N, C.D.E. “Analysis: The Impact of Needle, Syringe and Lancet Disposal on the Community.” Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology 5.4 (2011): 848-850. Print.
Kathleen Gold, in her article, “Analysis: The Impact of Needle, Syringe and Lancet Disposal on the Community” (2011), argues that a sustainable plan must be developed in order to address the impact of pharmaceuticals and personal care products on the environment, which affects all areas of manufacturing and not just specific companies. The author focuses her discussion on home-generated medical waste – syringes, lancets, needles, insulin pump tubing, continuous glucose monitor tubing, and insertion devices – which is not regulated in the United States. Gold explains that 7.5 billion needles and syringes are used outside the healthcare system, and without regulation, places sanitation workers and custodial personnel at risk of injury. Therefore, the author’s highlighting of this high number illustrates her purpose of demonstrating a need to research the impact of these products’ effect on the environment and the impact of unregulated medical waste disposal in the community. The author establishes an informative, direct tone with the audience by explaining numbers and processes, while asking direct questions and raising concerns.
As there is no current regulation in the United States, Gold explains the standard practice of patients depositing their medical waste products with their curbside trash. Trash is taken to a materials recover facility (MRF), which then begins a sorting process to separate designated recyclable material (different from the voluntary recycling in which households participate) from the solid waste.
Materials are then sorted either manually or through a mechanical sorting process; what is not recyclable is transported to a landfill. It is at this point in the process where sanitation workers are exposed to needle-stick injuries. The author points out needle-stick injuries are one of the top three injuries reported at MRFs (according to data tracked by waste management companies). Custodial staffs are also at risk at public venues (including hotels, airports, train stations, and large entertainment centers), but presently there are no data-tracking systems for these professions.
When illustrating the 7.5 billion syringes used in households yearly, Gold asserts this number does not reflect the number of lancets used by the 25 million individuals with diabetes. It is estimated that 1 in 12 households in the United States are using a syringe for the treatment of diabetes, migraines, allergies, infertility, arthritis, HIV, hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, psoriasis, and other conditions.
Due to there being no set standard for disposal, individuals deposit their needles in the trash or flush them down the toilet. The most common instructions given to individuals are to place their needles and syringes in a heavy plastic container and place it at the curbside trash. Currently, a limited number of regions in the United States offer a safe community disposal system. In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published Community Options for Safe Needle Disposal outlining the dangers of improper needle disposal and offering a variety of program options, none of which are mandatory:
- Drop-off collection sites
- Syringe exchange programs
- Mail-back programs
- Home needle destruction devices
- Household hazardous waste collection sites
- Residential waste special pick-up programs
But, states and municipalities are beginning to research and enforce their own policies to offer safer alternatives. The Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal is working nationally with stakeholders by sharing the burden of these programs with pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, waste management companies, recycling companies, and local and state governments.
The author asks questions the audience must ponder, such as “Why are we not doing something to correct this problem?” to which she replies the answer is money. The disposal of medical waste is expensive, and who is going to bear this burden? The patient who already has high expenses? The local municipalities that will have to develop, implement, publicize, and enforce regulations? Waste management companies? Or should the manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies provide a solution?
The author then moves her questions to the workers and their concern for their safety, “Why are the workers not demanding protection?” Do they have enough power to do so? Do they recognize the risk they are placing themselves into? Do they know their rights? Are they educated enough to know they need protection (or demand it)? Gold answers these jobs are filled by low-paid employees.
While Gold is direct and asks questions the audience needs to contemplate, she is successful in establishing an informing relationship and achieving the goal of advising her audience of the situation. She does not place the blame on any of the parties involved and believes a quick solution cannot be determined due to development and costs. Therefore, Gold is able to create an unbiased reasoning to finding a solution soon, to which the audience is able to understand as a concerned citizen and not be an observer to a corporation tug-of -war. The author does provide information for those who are interested in programs available in their community.
As this article provides the information and basis for this issue, how can graphic design alleviate this situation? What disciplines would become involved?
Would this issue alleviate itself if medical products were redesigned? Is it possible for these products to be redesigned? (needles using different materials)
Who should cover the costs? Is there a way to minimize the cost once a solution is found?
Butschli, Jim. “How leading pharma/device firms employ sustainability.” Packaging World, 3 July 2012. Packaging World. Web. 26 Jan. 2013. < http://www.packworld.com/sustainability/strategy/how-leading-pharmadevice-firms-employ-sustainability>
Carroll, Jeremy. “Ban on needle disposal begins in Massachusetts.” Waste & Recycling News, 9 July 2012. Waste & Recycling News. Web. 26 Jan. 2013. <http://www.wasterecyclingnews.com/article/20120709/NEWS01/120709943/ban-on-needle-disposal-begins-in-massachusetts>
“Disposal of sharps – needles and lancets.” Diabetes UK, 2012. Web. Diabetes, UK. 26 Jan. 2013. <http://www.diabetes.org.uk/Guide-to-diabetes/Monitoring/Blood_glucose/Disposal_of_sharps/>
Leonard, Paul. “Sustainability in Medical Device Design: Turning Challenge into Opportunity.” Carbon Design Group, 2011. Carbon Design Group. Web. 26 Jan. 2013 < http://www.carbondesign.com/sustainability-in-medical-device-design-turning-challenge-into-opportunity>
Sudeykina, Svetlana. Eco Labeling. Constructing visual messages to motivate respect and care about environment on the personal level. MFA Thesis. Savannah College of Art and Design, 2011. Print.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Needles and Other Sharps (Safe Disposal Outside of Health Care Settings). U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 12 Dec. 2011.Web. 26 Jan. 2013.