Sharps estimates that 9 million individuals in the U.S. self-inject, producing more than 3 billion syringes annually. And that doesn’t include the syringes, needles, lancets, and unused medications generated outside of the hospital at large healthcare facilities, such as professional offices, clinics, and emergency preparedness locations.
“Sharps’ Waste Conversion Process and PELLA-DRX are designed to address these medical waste concerns. None of the medical waste we process will ever go to a landfill,” says Dr. Burton Kunik, Sharps’ chairman and CEO. “Instead, it is repurposed into a raw material that becomes part of a new product. With our conversion process, medical waste throughout the world can now become a sustainable product managed in the most effective, environmentally thoughtful way possible. Our process renders medical waste to be as sterile as sterile medical instruments. We’re not just reducing the amount of medical waste being sent to landfills; we’re completely eliminating it.”
The company’s Web site states that its “strategy is to capture a large part of the estimated $2 billion untapped market for used syringes and unused medical waste outside of hospital and large healthcare settings by targeting the major agencies that are interrelated with this medical waste stream—the U.S. government, pharmaceutical manufacturers, home healthcare providers, retail pharmacies and clinics, and the professional market comprised of physicians, dentists, and veterinary practices.”
The company’s flagship product, the Sharps® Recovery System™, is available on its Web site and is used to dispose of medical waste such as hypodermic needles, lancets, and any other medical device or object used to puncture or lacerate the skin (sharps). The Sharps®MWMS™ (Medical Waste Management System) is for emergency preparedness programs.
Its TakeAwayRecovery System™ is designed for individual consumers, retail or mail-order pharmacies, communities, and facilities, including assisted living, long-term care and correction operations, to facilitate the proper disposal of unused dispensed medications.
Sharps are typically collected from medical facilities and delivered by truck to facilities for sterilization or incineration, then landfilled. In the case of Sharps Compliance, it sells recycled containers made of post-industrial (and some post-consumer) high-density polyethylene, provided by Custom-Pak (www.custom-pak.com). Another environmental benefit of the Sharps process, Kunik says, is that it’s all done by mail. “A truck doesn’t need to pick up the containers every day,” he explains. “People just send them in when they are full and start using a new one. An individual can do this by going to our Web site.”
The conversion process
The sharps are mailed to the company’s facility in Carthage, TX, where the autoclave/steam sterilization conversion process provides a Log 6 level of sterility. “We do a process that most medical waste companies would never do,” Kunik contends. “That is, we do a log-kill that is the same as you would use to sterilize instruments, because we are sending a product out to another facility to be repurposed and we want to make sure there is no question about the cleanliness, the disinfection, or the sterility of the material we send.”
Before introducing the new conversion process, Kunik says the process operated at Log 4. “But we moved up to Log 6 in order to make sure there is no question,” he says. When Sharps containers arrive at the Carthage facility, the containers are never opened. All shipments received are weighed, documented, and input on an external tracking document that’s archived for secure customer access.
Containers are placed into the facility’s autoclave for more than an hour. Afterwards, materials are manually transferred to a shredding machine supplied by SSI Shredding System. “It shreds the material into confetti size,” says Kunik. Next, that material is made into pellets on a machine from California Pellet Mill Co. “At that point,” Kunik says, “it’s a new product that we can ship to cement and brick companies.
“Our new pelletized product we produce has a higher energy rating than coal. Coal is rated at 10,000 BTU; ours does 16,000 to 17,000 BTUs. We’ve got patents pending all around it, but this is the first time that medical waste is being repurposed.”
Kunik says that Sharps could work with hospitals and license its technology to medical waste companies in the future. “We just rolled it out in April, so we are building the business model. It has got to be a win for both sides, so we are working our way through that. Hopefully, we will be able to provide service to everyone within the next few months.”