Recycling's Dirty Dozen — No. 7: Dangerous Biohazards Are Hurting Recycling Efforts

Recycling’s Dirty Dozen — No. 7: Dangerous Biohazards Are Hurting Recycling Efforts

  • Editor’s Note: This article is written by Julie Moller, chair of the River Forest Sustainability Commission, along with Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland, both of whom are members of the Illinois Task Force for Recycling Contamination Solutions. The article is part of a year-long a series on the “Dirty Dozen” of recycling — the 12 items that should NOT go in your recycling cart. Got local questions or concerns? Contact Jarland at 630-208-3841 or

Please keep dangerous stuff like biohazards out of the recycling bin. By biohazards we mean things like needles, diapers and dog doo doo.

A biohazard material is waste containing infectious materials or potentially infectious substances such as blood. Some of the top biohazards that end up in the recycling bin are soiled diapers, used needles, and animal feces.

Needles are the top offender, with about 8 billion being disposed of by U.S. households. Several million of these needles end up in recycling facilities and pose a significant risk to workers.

Never Put Needles in The Recycling Bin

Some people collect their needles in a plastic container that they place in a recycling bin thinking the container will be recycled. That’s a problem because at the recycling center the container will get crushed, the needles spill out and an unfortunate recycling worker will have to pick the remnants from a conveyor belt.

Recycling is hand-sorted, and although the workers are wearing gloves, a needle can easily poke through. If an employee is “stuck” by a needle, they have to notify the company immediately and the plant is shut down for a period of time.

If the needle cannot be identified, the worker may have to go on medication for an entire year.

Dispose of Needles Properly

The best way to dispose of needles is to collect them in a thick plastic container like a detergent bottle, securely tape the lid on, label it “Sharps enclosed” and then place it in the trash.

Check out the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency fact sheet for thorough instructions on Safe Home Disposal of needles.

Alternately, Kane County residents can bring used needles to the Coroner’s Office for safe disposal, click here for location details and guidelines.

Diapers, Animal Feces Belong in The Trash

Amazingly enough, common biohazards found in the recycling are used diapers and animal feces in a plastic bag.

Maybe it’s because diapers contain plastic or the “doggie doo” bag is plastic, that people think that they can be recycled. Or maybe they are not paying attention.

These items should not be included in recycling and should go in the trash.

People tend to recycle because they want to do the right thing. However, these kinds of unacceptable materials can clog the recycling system and put workers at risk.

Please continue to recycle the items you know can be recycled, and keep the bad stuff where it belongs – in the trash or properly disposed of.

The bottom line is to think before you throw. If you were a recycling worker, would you want to handle a used needle or sort through people or pet poop? I think not!

Read The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Series!