How should I dispose of used needles or sharps?

Use a sharps bin (a specially designed rigid box with a lid). Sharps bins are available on prescription (FP10 prescription form) from your GP or pharmacist, and can be collected by your local authorities or returned to the doctor who prescribed them for disposal when full.   

Needles

Used needles must not be bent or broken before disposal and you must never try to recap a needle.

Using a needle clipper

You can use a clipper to snap off a needle or the sharp part of a syringe. The needle stays inside the clipper. However, clippers are not designed to remove lancet needles.

Clippers are available for free on prescription if the patient is exempt from charges – for example, if he or she is diabetic.

Using your sharps bin

You can use your sharps bin to dispose of medical supplies such as:

  • needles
  • syringes
  • lancets used with finger-pricking devices
  • clippers 

After you've used needles or similar medical supplies, put them into the sharps bin immediately. Do not try to take them out again.

Boxes must only be filled to the manufacturers' line and should be disposed of every three months, even if they are not full.

While your sharps bin is in use or waiting to be collected, keep it in a safe place so it's not a risk to other people and is out of the reach of children.

Disposing of your full sharps bin

Arrangements for disposing of full sharps bins vary from area to area.

When your sharps bin is full, you may be able to return it to your GP surgery or local pharmacy. Some GP surgeries and pharmacies run free collection services.

If you have a medical condition such as diabetes, you can ask your local council to collect your sharps bin. Local councils can charge for this service.

Do not use other bins

You should not put used needles or other sharps:

  • in your household waste bin or any other general refuse bin
  • in a container that's no longer needed, such as a drinks can or bottle

Needles can cause injury to you or other people because they're sharp. Used needles carry blood-borne viruses that may be passed on to other people, such as:

Needles for medication

If you use needles to inject medication, it's your responsibility to dispose of them safely. For example, if you have:

  • diabetes and use a syringe, injection pen or insulin pen for regular insulin injections
  • diabetes and need regular finger-prick blood tests using a lancet to check your glucose level
  • a severe allergy for which you may need to inject adrenaline (epinephrine) from a preloaded syringe or injection pen

Needles used for illegal drugs

Reusing a needle to inject illegal drugs carries a high risk of catching a serious blood-borne infection. Needles should never be reused or shared to avoid the risk of passing on infection.

Many areas in England have needle and syringe programmes that provide free supplies of clean needles and advice on disposing of used needles safely. Contact your local pharmacy or drug service to find out if there's a programme in your area.

Read information about getting help for drug misuse.

Read the answers to more questions about NHS services and treatments.

Further information:

Children with diabetes

Parents describe how they deal with having a diabetic child, including daily routines such as insulin injections, and how children can live life to the full.

Media last reviewed: 20/08/2013

Next review due: 20/08/2015

Page last reviewed: 02/10/2014

Next review due: 01/10/2016