Sydney sticks it to stray needles

By Paul Hemsley

The City of Sydney’s shot at minimising health risks associated with syringes and other so-called medical “sharps” entering the mainstream rubbish collection system has taken out a Local Government Excellence Award.

The Local Government and Shires Association of New South Wales (LGSA) gave the prize to the City for installing two community sharps bins in the Northcott community as part of a one-year trial and education program about how and why to dispose of needles and blades safely and securely.

The success of the trial means the community will now be able to keep the specialised sharps bins.

Syringes and needles that have been left lying on streets or thrown in regular rubbish are a significant problem for governments to tackle because of the danger of transmitting blood-borne diseases through needle stick injuries.

Potential infections include Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The City of Sydney cited that health experts say that while the risk of infection from a needlestick injury is statistically very low, the “associated stress can be significant”.

A major factor in sharps entering the rubbish collection stream is the rising number of people managing illnesses like diabetes at home – and those needles subsequently ending-up in regular bins where they pose a direct risk to garbage and recycling collectors.

The trial to install special bins was part of the Sustainable Action Values Everyone (SAVE) project, which was a joint initiative between the City of Sydney, Marrickville Council, the City of Canterbury, Randwick City Council and Housing NSW.

The SAVE project was a three-year program worth $1.75 million that lasted until July 2012, whose purpose was to create “environmental projects, assessment tools and transferable resources to targeted audiences”.

Sydney’s endeavour to manage the disposal of needles and syringes was a joint effort with NSW government agencies, the South Eastern Local Health District and the residents of the Northcott social housing community.

As a result of the trial, 10,710 “sharps” were diverted from the domestic waste stream and public places around the Northcott precinct in Surry Hills.

According to the City of Sydney, about 60 per cent of the sharps collected resulted from people managing their medical conditions at home.

For comparison, NSW Health estimated in 2004 that more than 18 million pen needles and syringes were distributed in NSW under the National Diabetes Services Scheme. Other users injecting drugs received another 10 million syringes.

However it is estimated that 20 million of these needles and syringes end up in local council waste or recycling services each year. A small number of these are dropped in public places.

The City of Sydney’s safe city manager, Lisa Simone said the City has “captured” more than 97 per cent of the discarded sharps waste in the local government area through the network of “highly efficient community sharps bins”.

“This award is well-deserved recognition for the comprehensive approach the City is taking to community sharps management,” Ms. Simone said.

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