Diabetes and insulin therapy require frequent use of medical supplies such as sharp needles, plastic syringes, injector pens, and glass vials.

In the United States alone, it is estimated that over 7 billion insulin pens, needles, and syringes are discarded yearly. But besides the undeniable environmental impact, improper disposal of diabetic supplies can lead to injuries and contamination.

Therefore, people with diabetes should be extra cautious when disposing of used needles and medical supplies. So, let’s focus on safe disposal methods to help reduce the impact of diabetic supplies on the environment and public health.  
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How to Dispose of Insulin Needles?

Insulin pen needles and insulin syringes are disposable and designed for single use only.  They are considered "sharps." Sharps are medical objects with sharp points or edges, like needles, syringes, lancets, infusion sets, or catheters, that can puncture or cut the skin and spread infections or diseases.
Therefore, like any sharp objects, insulin needles should not be thrown in the regular trash or recycle bin. They could pose serious health risks to sanitation workers, waste handlers, children, pets, and anyone who may come into contact with them. Besides, improperly disposed of sharps can end up in landfills or other public spaces, leading to environmental pollution.
Therefore, knowing where and how to dispose of diabetic needles is essential. In the U.S., insulin needles must be disposed of in a sharps container.

Sharps containers for insulin needles and syringes

FDA cleared sharps containers

Sharps containers are specially designed to safely contain and store sharps like insulin needles until they can be properly disposed of.
Many healthcare providers, pharmacies, and medical supply stores offer FDA-cleared sharps containers.
After each insulin pen injection, put the outer needle cap back onto the needle to unscrew it from the pen safely. Do not put the inner needle cap back on, as it could increase the risk of needle-stick injury. Then, immediately place the used needle in the sharps container.
When the sharps container is full, seal it tightly with its lid and dispose of it according to local regulations. Depending on where you live, local authorities may require you to take the container to a designated facility, like a local household hazardous waste collection center (HHW), a pharmacy, a healthcare provider, or a mail-back program. Check with your local health department, waste management facility, or pharmacy.
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If you don’t have a sharps container

If you don’t have an official FDA-cleared sharps container, there are still safe and responsible ways to dispose of used insulin needles and syringes. Here are some options:

  • Use a heavy-duty rigid plastic container with a screw-on lid, such as a laundry detergent or bleach bottle. When the container is full, seal it tightly with its lid, clearly label it as a hazardous waste container, and dispose of it according to local regulations (see above).
  • Alternatively, use a metal or glass container with a tightly secured lid, like a coffee can or a glass jar.
  • Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacy. They can provide you with a sharps container or offer a take-back program for used insulin needles and syringes. 

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How to Dispose of Insulin Pens?

How to dispose of your used or empty insulin pens depends on your injection pen type.

  1. Disposable insulin pens, like the FlexPen, Lantus SoloStar, KwikPen, and others, can be thrown away in the regular trash once they’re broken, empty, or their expiration date has passed. However, remove the needle and dispose of it separately in a sharps container. 
  1. Reusable insulin pens, like the NovoPen or the ClickStar pen injectors, should not be disposed of in household trash. Instead, check the manufacturer's instructions for specific cleaning and disinfection procedures and existing take-back programs.
  1. Smart insulin pens, like the Medtronic InPen, the NovoPen 6, or NovoPen Echo, are electronic devices that can’t be thrown in household trashes. Contact the manufacturer if your pen stops working.

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How to dispose of insulin vials?

Empty, old, or expired insulin vials must be disposed of immediately to avoid confusion with the good ones. The disposal of insulin vials, pens, and cartridges may vary according to local laws.
In most cases, insulin vials can be thrown in the household trash. Unfortunately, these items do not recycle, and there’s generally no take-back program on insulin because of its delicate and strict storage instructions.
Related article: How Long Do Insulin Vials Last?

How to dispose of insulin pump supplies?

Insulin pump supplies such as infusion sets, reservoirs, and tubing should also be disposed of properly to prevent injury and contamination.

  1. Infusion sets should be disconnected from your body and the insulin pump and disposed of in a sharps container like insulin needles and syringes (see above). 
  1. Reservoirs and tubing can be thrown in the household trash after being disconnected from the pump. 
  1. Insulin pumps: When you no longer use your insulin pump, it should be properly disposed of according to the manufacturer's instructions. Check with the manufacturer or your healthcare provider for specific disposal instructions. 

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Remember that proper disposal of diabetic supplies is essential and helps prevent injury and contamination to yourself, your family and friends, workers, and the environment.
If you have doubts about how to dispose of your insulin needles, pens, vials, or syringes, do not hesitate to ask for your doctor's or pharmacist's advice. Also, feel free to comment below; we'd be happy to help in any way we can!

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The information presented in this article and its comment section is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a replacement for professional medical advice. Always consult with a qualified healthcare provider for any medical concerns or questions you may have.