Needles and syringes are generally defined as "sharps" within State and Territory waste management legislation. The following provides a summary as to the definitions within each jurisdiction and how the legislation is applied.
In summary, all States/Territories have legislation that controls the management of clinical and related waste (which includes sharps). However, in the main, this legislation has been enacted to control "commercial and industrial" sources of those wastes (ie., hospitals and other healthcare facilities), for which the specific requirements have been developed – not domestic sources. As a consequence, it is not absolutely clear as to whether sharps that have been generated within domestic settings (eg., by IDU or even people with Diabetes), and have been collected by a NSP for disposal can be classified under legislative provisions.
Verbal advice from officers of State and Territory Environment and/or Health government agencies has indicated that administrative arrangements have been developed so that as long as the NSP is managing sharps waste in accord with the legislative requirements (eg., utilising treatment technologies that have been approved for sharps), then the NSP is not required to undertake requirements such as obtaining storage licences or using transport certificates. Due primarily to lack of clarity in being required to do so, most NSPs utilise the same transport and treatment systems that healthcare facilities do, or are managing used N&S via a healthcare facility's waste system.
However, there does seem to be an expectation that when N&S are collected from a NSP by a waste contractor, that the administrative requirements (eg., Transport Certificates), are met and that transport of the waste is conducted with the same requirements as if the waste had been collected from a healthcare facility.
It is also important to stress that even if the status of sharps waste from a NSP has not been clarified, there are pollution and litter offences within each State and Territory jurisdiction that could be applied should such wastes be disposed of in a manner that could cause an injury to any person or negative impact to the environment.
Health and/or local government legislation also may contain provisions for public health/nuisance control. These provisions could also be used to manage discarded N&S should they be found to constitute a risk to the health and welfare of the community. It could be argued that mental health (eg. feeling threatened as a result of seeing N&S in public areas or by receiving a needlestick injury), could be a catalyst for the use of these legislative provisions.
Local governments are also beginning to consider the issue of disposal of sharps into domestic waste and recycling containers. While local governments do have broad powers to deal with this issue, they do in fact need to enact a "local law". During this review of legislation, only one council (Hobart City Council), indicated that they were in the process of preparing a local law to prohibit the deposition of clinical waste into domestic waste/recycling streams. Conversations with an officer from this council indicated that there was still some uncertainty as to how this local law could be applied to IDU.
Australian Capital Territory
New South Wales
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Australian Capital Territory
LegislationClinical Waste Act 1990
Definitions"clinical waste" means— (a) waste consisting of any catheter, hypodermic needle, intravenous set, pipette or scalpel; or
Applicability to NSPSharps not classified as clinical waste from NSP.
New South Wales
LegislationProtection of the Environment Operations Act 1997
Note: the legislation is currently under review.
DefinitionsClinical waste is a "controlled waste".
However, delegation of responsibility for aspects of management of clinical waste has been given to NSW Health with their requirements contained in "Waste Management Guidelines for Health Care Facilities"
According to NSW Health;
"clinical waste" is waste that has the potential to cause sharps injury, infection or offence.
"sharps" any object capable of inflicting a penetrating injury, which may or may not be contaminated with blood or body substances. This includes needles and any other sharp objects or instruments designed to perform penetrating procedures.
Under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997;
"sharps waste" means any waste resulting from medical, nursing, dental, veterinary, pharmaceutical, skin penetration or other related clinical activity, and that contains instruments or devices:
- that have sharp points or edges capable of cutting, piercing or penetrating the skin (eg needles, syringes with needles or surgical instruments), and
- that are designed for such a purpose, and
- that have the potential to cause injury or infection,
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Applicability to NSPNSW Health state that the "Guidelines" apply to community health centres. NSW Health, through the Area Health Services requires management of NSP sharps as a clinical waste.
NSP sharps administratively not classified as a Controlled Waste.
LegislationWaste Management and Pollution Control Act
Schedule 2 – Activities that Require Approval or Licence
2. Collecting, transporting, storing, re-cycling, treating or disposing of a listed waste on a commercial or fee for service basis, other than in or for the purpose of a sewerage treatment plant.
Waste Management and Pollution Control (Administration) Regulations
Schedule 2 – Clinical waste is a listed waste
DefinitionsInterim Policy for the Disposal of Departmental Clinical and Medical Waste 19 June 1995
"Medical Waste" Medical waste means waste consisting of sharps;
"Sharps" Sharps are a form of medical waste consisting of objects or devices having acute rigid corners, edges, points or protuberances capable of cutting or penetrating the skin. This includes a needle, syringe with needle, surgical instrument or other article that is discarded in the course of medical, dental or veterinary practice or research and has a sharp edge or point capable of inflicting a penetrating injury on a person coming into contact with it.
Applicability to NSPNSP sharps not classified as a Listed Waste.
Sites receiving waste are required to have a management plan approved. Therefore, if a landfill was to accept sharps waste from a NSP, there would have to be an approved management plan for this waste type.
LegislationEnvironmental Protection (Waste Management) Regulation 2000
Environmental Protection (Waste Management) Policy 2000
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Definitions"clinical waste" means waste that has the potential to cause disease, including, for example, the following-
- animal waste;
- discarded sharps;
- human tissue waste;
- laboratory waste.
Provides for the management of wastes including Regulated Wastes.
Applicability to NSPNSP sharps administratively not classified as Regulated Waste.
While not specifically stating it, the legislation implies that sharps disposed or discarded into public areas or toilets may be classified as a clinical waste, and thus managed accordingly
LegislationEnvironment Protection Act 1993
Schedule 1 Prescribed activities of environmental significance (4) Activities Producing Listed wastes
an activity in which any of the substances or things listed in Part B of this Schedule are produced as or become waste other than any of the following activities:
(o) medical practice, not being the practice of pathology;
(t) operation of an immunisation clinic;
(u) operation of a hospital with a capacity of less than 40 beds;
Environment Protection (Waste Management) Policy 1994
Provides the details of how medical waste generated from "prescribed activities" as indicated in Schedule 1 of the Act are to be managed.
DefinitionsPart B Listed wastes
Medical waste of
(a) a needle, syringe with needle, surgical instrument or other article that is discarded in the course of medical*, dental or veterinary practice or research and has a sharp edge or point capable of inflicting a penetrating injury on a person who comes into contact with it; or
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Applicability to NSPNSP waste not classified as a Listed Waste.
LegislationEnvironmental Management and Pollution Control (Waste Management) Regulations 2000
5. For the purposes of the definition of "controlled waste" in section 3 of the Act, a waste is prescribed as a controlled waste if it exhibits an environmentally significant characteristic and is one of the following:
(f) any other waste declared by the Director, by notice published in the Gazette, to be waste consisting of, or containing a quantity of, a pollutant that when placed in, or discharged into, the environment may –
- directly or indirectly cause environmental harm; or
- give rise to the abnormal concentration of any substance in any plant, animal or organism above natural concentrations; or
- adversely affect the use or value of the receiving waters for recreational, commercial, domestic, agricultural or industrial purposes; or
- contain sufficient heat, or be likely to generate sufficient heat by itself or in combination with other matter, to ignite or cause fire; or
- give rise to undesirable, abnormal or harmful growth of a plant, animal, virus or organism.
DefinitionsEnvironmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994
"controlled waste" means – (b) a substance that is prescribed by the regulations to be controlled waste;
Applicability to NSPStrictly classified as a clinical waste, but not administratively pursued.
DPIWE has indicated in "Controlling Waste: A Six-Point Action Plan", that they will be improving the management of clinical and related waste. An "Approved Management Method" for these wastes will be prepared under the Environmental Management and Pollution Control (Waste Management) Regulations 2000. A draft of this has been released in March 2005.
LegislationEnvironment Protection (Prescribed Waste) Regulations 1998.
DefinitionsThis Regulation defines what are Prescribed Industrial Wastes, and establishes detailed requirements for their management.
Regulation 7 Prescribed industrial waste
For the purposes of the Act a waste that—
- is an industrial waste—
- that arises from an industrial, commercial or trade activity or from a laboratory; or
- that is potentially harmful to human beings or equipment and arises from a hospital; and
- is listed in Part B of Schedule 1— and any mixture containing an industrial waste that is listed in Part B of Schedule 1 are prescribed industrial wastes.
Sharps include syringes, needles, lancets, scalpel blades and anything capable of cutting or penetrating the skin. Where items such as disposable glassware and dentists' drill bits are contaminated (eg by blood, body fluids, cultures, etc) and are disposed of in a fashion which could lead to breakage or are still sufficiently sharp to penetrate the skin if mishandled, they should be disposed of as sharps rather than in the normal clinical waste stream.
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Applicability to NSPPrescribed Industrial Waste applies to premises that generate wastes listed in Part B of Schedule 1 of the Regulations.
While it has been advised that an NSP meets this criteria, and as such the Prescribed Waste Regulations apply, administratively they would not be required to meet the Regulatory requirements.
LegislationThe Environmental Protection (Controlled Waste) Regulations 2004
DefinitionsClinical waste from the generators listed (medical, nursing, dental, veterinary, pharmaceutical or other related activity) is the only clinical waste that has its transport regulated. That is, these waste generators must engage a licensed Controlled Waste Carrier to collect and transport their clinical waste to an approved disposal site/treatment plant.
Schedule 1 of the Regulations lists clinical waste and waste pharmaceuticals medicines and drugs as controlled waste. In the Regulations clinical waste has been defined as follows;
"means waste generated by medical, nursing, dental, veterinary, pharmaceutical or other related activity19 which is:
- poisonous or infectious;
- likely to cause injury to public health; or
- contains human tissue or body parts"
Applicability to NSPClinical waste from other sources including local government collection programs, collection of sharps from public areas, schools, etc. do not currently fall under the Controlled Waste Regulations. Therefore, they can transport their own clinical waste without the need to be licensed.
It should be noted that all clinical waste whether from a licensed Carrier or an unlicensed Carrier does need to be disposed of, to a licensed clinical waste disposal site or treatment plant. Landfill of untreated sharps is not acceptable.
A policy is being considered whereby all waste generators producing clinical waste will require a licensed Controlled Waste Carrier to collect and transport the waste to an approved location. The only Carriers not to be licenced are those operating for no gain or reward – do not want to go down the path of licensing private persons taking their needles to an exchange program, and organisations that provide free collection services for clinical waste from home healthcare. Local governments who collect sharps containers from public areas will need to be licensed.