Offering solutions, solving problems…Not!

Waste Management World reports that cleansing bosses in Exeter are appealing to people not to put hypodermic needles into their recycling boxes.

“In one week alone, 113 needles were found in recycling passing through the city’s materials reclamation facility (MRF) in Exton Road. Since the beginning of the year the number of needles found has topped 400.

“Every time a needle is found the plant has to be stopped in case there are any more needles in the same batch of recycling.

“It takes several minutes for the sorting operation to begin again afterwards and this costs the city tax payers thousands of pounds each month.

“Since the beginning of the year more than 10 hours have been lost – £6,400 in down-time. That equates to around £18,500 over a year.

“Hypodermics in recycling also pose risks for conveyor belt workers who have to sort through the recycling by hand. Simon Hill, the city’s cleansing manager, said: “This is a constant problem for us.

Well, of course it is a serious problem that has practical, financial and most seriously health & safety implications for the staff working the picking line.

Advising the good people of Exeter, and the not so good, not to put their needles into the recycling waste streams is important and the LA should do everything possibly to hammer home this message. Providing a more suitable disposal route is an essential part of that approach, but in this case Exeter shoots itself in the foot.

On their web page “Health and safety – dumped needles and syringes” the Council gives advice on what to do if someone finds a discarded needle:


What can you do?

In the first instance it is better to telephone one of the departments above, so that we can come and remove the needle if on public land.  However, it really helps if you can store the needle out of the way so no-one will get hurt before we can remove it.  A safe way to do this is to find a glass jar with lid and a bulldog clip.

  • Place the glass jar on the floor or same surface as the needle
  • Make sure no-one is likely to bump into you
  • Take the bulldog clip and grip the needle or syringe
  • Gently place it into the glass jar and put the lid on it.

This is now safe and ready for us to collect.


I have grave doubts about the wisdom of this advice. It is not for members of the public to collect and dispose of discarded needles. Even worse is the advice given by the Council to do this, leaving them liable to a claim when things go wrong. This seems to invite, rather than prevent, sharps or needlestick injury and is clearly unsafe.

Now, let’s make that worse. Tell Joe Public to use a bulldog clip which is almost certainly an unsafe maneuver.

And then, what about a container?  Well, put the needle into a glass bottle – condemned by some LAs singe glass can break, the information of how this glass bottle is to be retained for collection are somewhat short on detail.

Who would be surprised then, if said needle glass jar or bottle and the needle it contains were to turn up in the household collectables!

On the one hand the Council rail against needles in cans and bottles on their picking lines, at the same time telling people to do just that. They simply can’t have it both ways.

Sometimes the solution is worse that the problem, and if anyone is to blame it would seem to be the Council. Indeed, their inappropriate advice is likely to cost the taxpayer far more when an accident happens that the exaggerated figures quoted to stop a picking line.


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