OSHKOSH - Locals in Winnebago and Outagamie counties can now dispose of needles and other sharp medical objects free of charge, thanks to a new collaboration between the counties and Roundy's supermarkets.
The "sharps" disposal pilot program aims to lower barriers of cost and convenience that keep people from safely disposing of needles, syringes and lancets (which diabetics use to prick their fingers). Sharps can be dropped off three Pick 'n Save pharmacies in Appleton, one in Neenah and one in Oshkosh.
"It just seems really limited where you can send your sharps, to be honest," said Jennifer Kloes, a registered environmental health specialist at the Winnebago County Health Department. "It's not easy."
In the past, Roundy's pharmacies have provided sharps disposal as a free service to its own customers across the state. People who were not Pick 'n Save pharmacy customers paid a fee, as is common at other pharmacies across Winnebago County. Many pharmacies provide a small box for disposal that customers can bring back to the store when full.
The new program allows anyone with the right container to bring in sharps for safe disposal. If a person doesn't have a red container, they can use an empty laundry detergent bottle that is properly labeled.
The program will also include an educational component through the informational brochures. It is illegal to throw sharps in with general recycling or trash, but the law is not really enforced, said Christine Miller, recycling coordinator for Outagamie County.
But the threat to public health cannot be ignored, said Anna Carpenter, a preparedness specialist at the Winnebago County Health Department.
"Because they're medical waste and can have communicable disease risks through bodily fluids and blood attached to them, that product needs to be disposed of in a proper way," Carpenter said. "Doing that can help stop the spread of infection and diseases and that's what public health is all about."
In Outagamie, Miller said her team in Appleton is seeing sharps in the recycling daily, which pose a health threat to the workers who handle the recyclables. And the number of sharps turning up in the wrong waste stream is only increasing.
"It's only going to get worse, because more and more people do their injections at home and things like that so we're just really trying to provide a service for the residents.
A program in which counties cover the cost of sharps disposal is far from novel. In Brown County, the program that served as a template for Winnebago and Outagamie's pilot, began in 1996. Over 20 years in, the vast majority of pharmacies in the county participate in the collection program, which costs the county $9,800 a year. They collect about 9,700 pounds of sharps annually, said Chris Blan, a technician at Brown County Resource Recovery.
"I think that people maybe expect it to be there," Blan said. "I think they take it for granted that its a service that not every county has for their use."
Miller anticipates the counties would spend as much as Brown County does to expand the Outagamie program to all pharmacies, which would be the next step if the pilot is successful.
Officials noted pharmacies are the perfect partner because of how often the public visits local supermarkets and because pharmacies are a major dispenser of sharps.
The program is just one more example of the power of partnership in making the lives of Wisconsinites a little easier and safer, said Kyle Beyer, Roundy's clinical care manager. The Roundy's partnerships in Outagamie and Winnebago aren't the first, but they are one more opportunity for local pharmacies to help better the community's heath.
"If you're going to be a health-care provider, in the community that your serve, you should be a leader in the public health initiatives in those particular communities," Beyer said. "Outside of the consultation and dispensing and immunizations that our pharmacies provide, anything additional that we can do to keep those communities healthy ... we're happy to do that."
Members of the public can drop off their sharps at the following Pick 'n Save locations:
2400 W. Wisconsin Ave.
2700 N. Ballard Rd.
511 W. Calumet St.