It is surprisingly easy to dispose of OTC or prescription medications and used syringes in the San Lorenzo Valley and throughout Santa Cruz County. County Recycling Coordinator, Jeffrey Smedberg was instrumental in establishing the Sharps Solutions Program and manages it for the County of Santa Cruz in an effort to stop residents from flushing drugs down the drain by providing a safe, free and environmentally responsible way to get rid of old household medicines and sharps. http://www.sharpmedsolutions.org/
This program is a retail take-back program, which began in 2008 with a grant from the California Integrated Waste Management Board (now CalRecycle). There are currently 35 take-back sites, including 27 retail pharmacies, 4 Household Hazardous Waste sites, 3 police stations, and a medical clinic. The program grew steadily the first few years, although collections leveled off in the past year or so. So it is time to remind people about the importance of proper disposal of these dangerous items.
The program is currently funded primarily by local wastewater treatment facilities that view Sharp Solutions as an effective mitigation to keep pharmaceuticals out of the drain. Some funds are also contributed by participating retailers. Most local pharmacies, including Boulder Creek Drugs (both sharps and medicines) and CVS Pharmacy in Felton (sharps only), participate in the program, although RiteAid and Costco are notable exceptions in the City of Santa Cruz. The program collects two waste streams in tandem, though manages the wastes separately. Most take-back sites accept sharps, and half of them take unused medicines. Some take both.
Also included in the drop-off program is the Household Hazardous Waste program at the Ben Lomond Transfer Station (Thursdays only, 7:30-3:30) which takes both medications and sharps.
Impressively, the program currently collects about 1,000 pounds of medicines each month, of which about half is prescription and half over-the-counter medications. Also collected is 800 pounds of sharps waste each month, which translates to about 440,000 sharps per year, out of an estimated 2.4 million used in the County (note that this totals number includes sharps used at medical facilities which have their own disposal systems). Collection site pickups are as-needed, ranging from weekly to semi-annually. Pickups are paid under a $26,000 annual County contract with a registered medical waste hauler. For the past 3 years, no funds have been available for outreach and education for the program, although it is regularly mentioned in city and County recycling newsletters. The County Public Works Department has set aside $20,000 for outreach during the remainder of the 2012-13 fiscal year.
San Luis Obispo County began a mandatory retail take-back program in 2008 requiring any store selling sharps to take them back, and there is some interest in a similar approach locally. In response, Assemblymember Mark Stone has introduced a bill in the California Legislature calling for a statewide sharps stewardship program to be funded by sharps manufacturers, which would likely include retail take-back. We will keep you posted on this legislation.