ESCANABA - An increase in the number of sharps - needles used for injection - found in recyclables has prompted concern for the Delta Solid Waste Authority.
Different types of recyclables arrive at the center together and must be sorted by hand. "People have to handle all this stuff," said Donald Pyle, landfill manager. "All these folks are picking stuff off and that's where we're finding these things."
Most of the employees who sort the recyclables are contracted through Lakestate Industries, an agency which removes barriers to employment and promotes community inclusion for people with disabilities.
Ilsa Matthes | Daily Press
Some of these needles were found in the coffee can and others were found loose among recyclables. Many of these needles have lost their protective coverings leaving their sharp tips exposed.
"It is a little scary, because it all comes together. It's not like it's separated, plastic, paper, and all that," said Paula Derouin, production manager for Lakestate Industries, who oversees the sorting operation.
Because of the risk of disease transmission, anyone stuck with a needle has to be tested for AIDS, hepatitis, and other possible infections. "I don't know of anybody that's actually contracted anything. That I'm not aware of, but I would say since the first of the year four people have gone to the hospital to be checked out because they've gotten stuck with something or cut," said Pyle.
The needles that are most commonly appearing in the recycling are the kind used for insulin injection. However, the same needles are often used to inject illegal drugs. "If somebody see something in the garbage they think, 'oh, insulin needles,' nobody thinks, 'oh, drug user,'" said Pyle.
Many of the needles are not enclosed in a container, but sometimes whole bottles of sharps come through on the sorting line.
Delta Solid Waste Management Authority will accept sharps which are properly packaged for disposal. "We will take them, we will dispose of them properly, but they are not to go into the garbage or the recycling," said Pyle.
Sharps should be placed inside a hard, plastic container labeled "sharps," and lids and openings must be sealed with duct tape. The container should be dropped off at the front office window. The container will be buried in a known location so that landfill workers do not accidentally step or fall on it.
"If you know of someone who's on insulin, if you have an elderly parent who does injections of any sort, please, please talk to them about how to properly dispose," urged Pyle.
Another issue facing the sorters is glass. "What happens is it comes in on this garbage truck, it gets packed, if it doesn't break there it breaks when it hits our concrete floor. Then it's mixed in with everything...," said Pyle.
The sorters wear gloves, but sometimes that isn't enough protection against glass or needles. "We're pushing stuff around and our wrists are not protected, so you're rubbing your arm across the top of broken glass," said Derouin.
Pyle hopes the community will understand the danger and begin properly disposing of sharps and glass. "We want people to recycle more than they are, but with this particular issue we really need their help because it's a health issue," he said.
For more information about recycling or sharps disposal call the Delta Solid Waste Authority at 786-9056 or visit dswma.org.