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Inappropriate disposal of community sharps first became a significant issue for a number of local councils in NSW in the mid 1990s, when the presence of needles and syringes in kerbside recycling services raised specific occupational health and safety (OHS) concerns.

The NSW Department of Local Government issued a Circular to Councils, No. 96/47: Management and Disposal of Household Medical Waste. The circular examined the role and responsibilities of local councils for the management of household medical waste, and recommended that each local council develop appropriate management and disposal strategies.

While household medical waste can include items such as drained peritoneal dialysis fluid bags and tubing, or similar equipment, these materials are not included in the management focus of these Guidelines.

This type of soft plastic waste can be bulky and may quickly fill or obstruct community sharps disposal facilities. It may also generate unpleasant odours if not collected frequently. Unlike community sharps, which can cause a penetrating injury, this type of waste is generally considered suitable for disposal to domestic waste (not recycling) services.

Environmental legislation

Councils manage waste under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 and the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014 (Waste Regulation).

Depositing (littering) in or on a public place or an open private place is an offence under Section 145 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act. Under Section 145A, littering with a syringe constitutes aggravated littering and carries a penalty of $375 for an individual or $750 for a corporation. If the matter is heard in court, this offence carries a maximum penalty of $3,300 for an individual or $5,500 for a corporation.

Disposal of community sharps to household waste bins, public litter bins, and general solid waste landfills, however, is not prohibited under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act.

Local government legislation

The Local Government Act 1993 requires councils to provide services that meet the reasonable needs of local communities. Under Section 124 (Order 22) of the Local Government Act, local councils may direct the owners and occupiers of residential premises to manage their community sharps in a way that is acceptable to the council from a workplace health and safety or other perspective. This may include prohibiting disposal of community sharps to domestic waste and recycling services.

Orders 21 (keeping land or premises in a safe or healthy condition) and 27 (removal of dangerous objects from a public place) are also relevant. Section 630 of the Local Government Act makes it an offence to break or leave a syringe in a public place.

Public Health Regulation 2012

Part 4, Division 3, Clause 27 of the Public Health Regulation 2012 states that a person who uses a needle or a non-reusable sharp in a skin penetration procedure must dispose of the needle or sharp in the appropriate sharps container immediately after completing the procedure. The Regulation states that any business that uses sharps must place the sharps immediately after use in an appropriate sharps container.

Workplace health and safety legislation

The following SafeWork notifiable incidents are defined in Section 38 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 No 10:

  • the death of a person
  • a serious injury or illness of a person
  • a potentially dangerous incident.

Notifiable incidents should be reported to SafeWork NSW on 13 10 50.

The NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy (WARR)

The Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy (WARR Strategy) is the primary strategy for waste prevention, avoidance, re-use and recycling in NSW. The WARR Strategy 2014–21 includes a NSW Government commitment to improve collection services (such as establishing permanent collection points).

The strategy incorporates a commitment to support community drop off centres to make it easier for people to recycle and to remove problems (such as paint, batteries and oils) from household bins.

Needle and Syringe Program

Current as at: Wednesday 15 December 2021
Contact page owner: Centre for Population Health