Friday, March 27, 2009

Just where do all the Sharps containers go, anyway?

I was just checking in with Kerri at SUM and read her latest entry on diabetic waste and if I knew how to do a link thingy I so would as it is worth a read for the 'think' factor alone.

Speaking of thinking... you'll have to excuse me and any craziness I may write tonight. I'm fevered, suffering from a bout with the flu which has forced me to retreat to my bed; my heating pad working to stop my chattering teeth. I can't be held responsible for any insane, delirium-induced ramblings I may embark upon... should be interesting.

Most of us are environmentally aware these days. With our world's growing population and increasing hunger for disposability, we are facing a pretty 'holy shit' kind of crisis in what to do with all our crap... and all our crap's crap once it is no longer needed. And diabetes is a condition requiring copious amounts of CRAP. And all that CRAP has packaging. (Holy crap! Did I just use the word 'crap' seven times in a paragraph? I blame the fever.)

It's dizzying to ponder the magnitude of waste generated in just one day to manage the world's diabetic population. Now consider the world's medical waste in general! ...sharps containers in every hospital room, nurse's station, medical examination room, and every responsible person with diabetes utilizes some sort of sharps container to contain all the sharps required... and that's A LOT!

Before becoming a Mom I worked as a registered nurse, utilizing sharps containers every single day. When one filled up to it's 'Do not fill past this line' line, I popped the seal on it and arranged for pick up, knowing an empty one would replace it. I never questioned where these sharps containers go. Now, looking back, I wonder why I never asked that question. I, alone arranged to have countless full sharps containers swapped out for empty ones. I think of all the other nurses out there who can say the same. That's a staggering number of bio hazardous-filled, yellow, plastic containers.

Where do all these containers magically disappear to?

Now, I may be pathetically naive, but I assumed they were brought to a waste management and recycling facility where they were emptied of their dangerous contents in a safe manner, the contents was somehow rendered 'clean' by way of autoclave or incineration, and the now empty boxes were somehow sterilized and sent back to pharmacies where they are... well... recycled, for goodness sake!

When we initially set up our business of managing Jenna's diabetes after her diagnosis we were told about the pharmacy's sharps program where, when you purchase syringes you get a free cute little sharps box which you can exchange at the pharmacy once it is full. GREAT! However, when Jenna started on the pump, we were dismayed that her infusion sets wouldn't fit into the opening of these cute little sharps containers. (I'm embarrassed to say that it didn't become our practice to remove the insertion needle from the set with a pair of needle-nose pliers and recycle the plastic infusion set for a few weeks post pump start-up. This revelation would have spared us the following quandary. However, I think you'll agree that this experience, in itself brought about a new level of environmental awareness for us. So all was not lost.)

So, before we had our epiphany of removing the needle and placing only that into the sharps container then recycling the plastic inserter, we were on a quest to find a larger sharps container to accommodate our falsely perceived need. Our pharmacy stated they could special order one in for us but they couldn't accept it back once full as they cannot accommodate it's large size. "No problem" we thought. "We'll find a way. There must be some facility who will dispose of our full, over sized sharps box for us."

I called our Diabetes Nurse Educator for her assistance. I thought maybe the hospital would take it and arrange for disposal. But she told me they don't do that. She went on to say that as far as she knows, filled sharps containers are sealed then disposed of exactly the same way all garbage is; it's dumped in landfills. I'm certain that, without coming right out and saying it, she was encouraging me to just chuck the filled container in with my other trash and curb it. I was HORRIFIED. My mind immediately launched into a cascade of thoughts... the sheer immensity of medical waste! I thought of what we are doing to our beloved planet. It made me feel ill.

I still have that over-sized container. It contains a half dozen or so infusion sets; the ones that didn't make it into the recycle bin, you know, pre-epiphany. It goes without saying that now, every infusion set is stripped for parts and each component is placed in it's respective, environmentally responsible receptacles. We even go so far as to snip off the connector at the end of the tubing. Anything to prolong the use of our spacious sharps container.

I'm still dumb-founded that we can send people into outer space, send probes to Mars, Twitter every damn thought we have, engineer and build structures that astound and seem to defy the laws of physics, but we haven't discovered a better way to dispose of medical waste.

Wow. I fear for our future. Our poor, trash burdened future.