Lethbridge Waste and Recycling manager Steve Rozee said in the last two weeks, two staff members have required treatment following finger pricks from used syringes discarded improperly in blue recycling bins.
“Dozens of times, we’ve found needles in the recycling,” Rozee said. “That’s a really big concern when that happens, especially when it punctures someone’s skin.”
He said the Waste and Recycling centre has strong safety protocols in place, but cooperation from the community is crucial to protecting the important people behind the scenes.
“It’s those people who are going to be impacted,” Rozee said. “They’re the ones who are going to have to take that out — hopefully safely.”
He said most needles they find amongst the recyclables being sorted are visibly from home medical care, or could be from businesses that perform animal healthcare, as well as from other community needle users.
“Lots of the needles we receive don’t have a point on [them],” Rozee said. “It’s still a syringe to us and still a concern to us.”
Pharmacist Vishal Sukhadiya said the risks are extremely serious.
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“People can end up with something like Hepatitis C or HIV, and those are deadly diseases,” Sukhadiya said. “Some of them are curable but each month’s treatment can cost as much as $50,000.
“Do you really want somebody to be put through this?”
He said there is a very simple solution for safe disposal of any sharps or syringes.
“Just put it in the sharps container and bring it to any pharmacy — any pharmacy — and they’ll gladly take it,” Sukhadiya said.
“That’s why we have this big bin sitting right here.”
Rozee said needles aren’t the only dangerous item being disposed of improperly.
Oil cans, flares and compressed gas containers routinely end up in recycling bins.
“All those items could explode in the truck or in our sorting equipment where we have our workers,” he said. “And where we have a lot of valuable equipment that does the work of recycling for the community.”
For anyone confused about how to dispose of any item safely, he said the City of Lethbridge website has a “Waste Wizard” search option where residents can type in the item name and see a list of options or directions on where it should go.
Rozee emphasized that aside from these incidents, Lethbridge residents are still producing high-quality, well-sorted recyclables that they can take pride in rolling to the curb each week.