CONWAY — Keeping hypodermic needles out of the city’s recycling bins is a “constant battle,” said Cheryl Harrington, director of the Conway Sanitation Department.
Harrington posted on the sanitation department’s website a plea for homeowners not to put needles in the blue recycling bins.
The message posted on the website, www.conwaysanitation.org, states: “These are NOT recyclable, and placing them in your blue recycling carts puts our employees’ health in jeopardy, as we have had workers stuck when handling your recyclables.”
Harrington said Monday that two or three employees a year are stuck with needles and file workers’ compensation claims.
The affected employees receive shots for hepatitis — one immediately, one in 30 days and one in six months, Harrington said.
“We’re able to pull a lot from the line before it ever gets there, but those are small, and sometimes they get through,” she said.
“We try to use gloves — they’re called no-cut gloves — but a prick by a needle is not really a cut.”
Angie Howard, recycling coordinator for the city, said the problem of finding needles in recycling bins happened less often for a couple of years, but it has resurfaced.
“We did some publicity and kind of got it taken care of, but we’re starting to see it again,” Howard said.
“It’s extremely dangerous to our employees,” she said. “Even though they have protective gloves, those needles — they’re not expecting them to be in the recycling stream.”
“There’s really no safe way to not let it happen,” Harrington said.
The conveyor line of the Material Recovery Facility, called the MRF, goes quickly, Harrington said, and workers are moving their hands fast to grab items that shouldn’t be recycled.
Harrington said people use needles for chemotherapy or to take insulin for diabetes, for example.
They are well-intentioned in trying to recycle them, she said.
“I just don’t think people realize that even though there are plastic parts to that, not everything is recyclable even if it has plastic or recyclable parts on it,” she said.
“Maybe a part is recyclable, but the whole unit is not,” she said.
The proper way to dispose of needles is listed on the website: “Syringes for home medical devices must be placed in your garbage in a heavy plastic sealed container (such as a coffee-grounds canister or detergent bottle) and marked as such.”
“We have to err on the side of caution,” Harrington said of the needles. “For us, one at all is bad.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.