Reusable Sharps Container Pilot Project

Project Leads: Kelley Etherington, Andy Ng

SponsorEnvironment, Health & Safety

TGIF Mini-Grant: $1,925 (all funds returned to TGIF in fall 2013, read details below)

Project Theme: Waste Reduction

Project Location

2012 Mini-Grant Application Submission

Status: Discontinued - Project executed but found not feasible (see September 2013 update below). Funds returned to TGIF for reallocation to future grant projects.

Project Description: Sharps from medical research laboratories, including needles, blades, and broken glass, are often also considered biohazardous. Sharps containers account for a large portion of the biohazardous waste stream. The change to reusable sharps containers can dramatically reduce the amount of biohazardous waste being generated each year. This pilot project is helping EH&S better understand campus laboratories' needs, and reducing costs associated with purchasing single-use containers while preventing plastic from entering the solid waste stream. Funding will be used to purchase containers and hire a student intern to assist labs with transitioning from disposable sharps containers to reusable sharps containers.

Goals: The goal of this project is to transition from the use of disposable sharps containers to reusable sharps containers. This pilot project seeks to understand the cost benefits of providing reusable sharps containers to laboratories. Since there is a labor cost involved, EH&S will need to determine the affordability of the program. If the pilot proves successful, EH&S will approach University Health Services and other departments to participate in the reuse program on a larger scale.

2013 Project Poster


2012 - 2013 Accomplishments

  • Secured a contract to purchase reusable containers with Stericycle. The contract provides the sharps container plus disposal of contents for $9 per container.
  • Project leaders met with OLAC and Tang Center to discuss their participation in the program.Both departments decided the program is too expensive and that space to store the containers was an issue. These two departments purchase sharps containers for about $3 each and disposal is only about $2.
  • The project team has now focused its efforts on labs which are charged extra when EH&S picks up the container.
  • Project leaders met with the Department Safety Coordinator for Stanley Hall to plan a pilot project for QB3 in Stanley Hall.
  • Project leaders met with a vendor to discuss a storage rack system for a Hazardous Materials Facility. The rack system has been installed in Stanley Hall as part of the pilot. The rack will hold empty and filled sharps containers.
  • The project leaders conducted a survey of Stanley Hall lab occupants. The survey focused on preferred sizes for the sharps containers. Survey results were tallied and the sharps containers were purchased.

September 2013 Update:
 Although the contract with Stericycle was finalized in March, 2013, the project was determined not viable in August 2013. Stericycle does not allow their expensive, reusable sharps containers to be in the same building/work spaces as disposable containers. This is due to the safety issues of potentially having a disposable and biohazardous sharp be placed in a reusable sharps container. A pilot project was proposed to Stanley Hall, who was interested in offering this service to the QB3 laboratories. There are roughly 80 sharps containers in Stanley Hall but, after further research, it was found that the containers only need emptying twice per year. Stericycle was not willing to provide 80 sharps containers with such low turnover unless they could collect a monthly rental fee for each container. A cost-benefit analysis deemed this option not cost-effective. The project team found that a reusable sharps program is better suited for medical hospitals and clinics where high volumes of needles are generated. All grant funds were returned to TGIF in September 2013.

Mission Statement

The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) provides funding for projects that reduce UC Berkeley's negative impact on the environment and make UC Berkeley more sustainable. TGIF will allocate funds to projects that promote sustainable modes of transportation, increase energy and water efficiency, restore habitat, promote environmental and food justice, and reduce the amount of waste created by UC Berkeley. Portions of the fund also support education and behavior change initiatives, student aid (via return to aid), and internships. TGIF is supported by student fees and administered through a student-majority committee and a program coordinator.