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In the coming days, Los Angeles County is considering passing a pharmaceutical and syringe Extended Producer Responsibility "Take Back" ordinance requiring manufacturers of medicines and medical sharps to design end-of life disposal programs for these products. LAANE and Teamsters Local 396 strongly support the passage of this ordinance.

Syringe Take-Back Ordinance

Why Los Angeles County Should Pass a Pharmaceutical and Syringe Take-Back Ordinance—Roxana Tynan and Ron Herrera

Los Angeles County, California, and the Nation are in the midst of an escalating health and safety-environmental crisis brought on by an increase of unwanted pharmaceuticals and sharps in medicine cabinets, garbage, and municipal waste streams. Over the years and as members of the Don’t Waste LA Coalition, LAANE and Teamsters Local 396 have dedicated our efforts to protecting our environment by reforming our current waste and recycling system and lifting health and safety standards for the hard working men and women who work in the local waste and recycling industry.

Once a worker is stuck by a used syringe, they must undergo immediate medical testing, loss of work, and medical follow-up, sometimes lasting 6 months.

Thanks to our work, Los Angeles is now on the brink of implementing the new Zero Waste LA System, which will increase access to recycling for local residents, small businesses, and protect workers in this industry from exposure to dangerous materials such as used sharps. Historically, this industry has been very dangerous. One of the factors that contributes to these dangerous working conditions is exposure to hazardous materials, for example, at one Los Angeles-area facility, waste and recycling workers found sharps two to three times a week in their loads.

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An estimated one million Californians inject medications, generating more than 389 million used sharps each year. Even though disposing of home-generated sharps in the trash is illegal, they are routinely discarded in the trash, winding up on recycling sort lines. These sharps expose waste and recycling workers to Hepatitis B Virus (HBV), Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), along with more than 20 other pathogens, as well as medications like insulin.

Once a worker is stuck by a used syringe, they must undergo immediate medical testing, loss of work, and medical follow-up, sometimes lasting 6 months. Workers in the waste and recycling industry should not have to deal with exposure to this kind of health threat. Sharps (and pharmaceuticals for that matter) are different from any other types of waste that workers deal with. They are not trash, and they cannot be recycled. Rather, they are part of a growing and dangerous health concern which should not be left to haulers and recyclers or the workers employed by these companies to contend with. In this instance "out of sight/out of mind" is a dangerous and unfair practice. Residents must be provided with convenient methods and locations at which to properly dispose of their medical waste to increase compliance and reduce risks. The status quo, requiring drop-off at a severely limited number of sites, places undue burden on residents as well as local government.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), also called Product Stewardship, is the answer to managing this issue. It places a shared responsibility for end-of-life management of consumer products on the manufacturers of the products, while encouraging product design that minimizes negative impacts on human health and the environment at every stage of the product's lifecycle.

In our view, LA County should pass its excellent "Take-Back" ordinance, thereby ensuring the creation of a program capable of keeping dangerous needles out of the waste stream and away from unsuspecting waste and recycling workers.


Roxana Tynan and Ron Herrera
LAANE and Teamsters Local 396