It's not often you get some totally new equipment in a needle programme and the last thing I expected people to be innovative with was a sharps bin. The new bin from Exchange Supplies is something which could change whole aspects of the way we work with used injecting equipment, not to mention the fact it is (in my opinion at least) a better bin from the injectors point of view.
Real innovation is a very rare thing. Even back when Exchange Supplies introduced the Nevershare syringe in response to the findings from Avril Taylor's study, it was still really 'just a syringe' (with a wonderfully thin needle, a detachable end and available in multiple colours to discourage accidental sharing). Or when Frontier released the Filter Syringe; again it's still basically 'just a syringe' (with a great filter built into the cap). So really in both cases it was innovation, but still done by only slightly adapting what is already around.
As most people reading this blog will already know, existing sharps bins are all variations on a theme. Basically a big lockable container for putting all the equipment in, the same as in a hospital setting (in some cases it's exactly the same bin). Granted some companies have tried to make them more fit for purpose but this is often by either:
- Making the bins slightly smaller to fit in a pocket
- Adding a clear section so paranoid drug services can 'police' the contents (I have real issues with the whole concept of clear sided bins)
The new bin
Exchange have done something very few companies do though; they've gone back to a totally clean piece of paper and designed something original. In doing this they've looked at what is actually 'needed', which is of course:
- Something to keep the 'dangerous sharp' safely away from the public
- Something lockable (to prevent reuse)
- Portable enough for people to keep with them without it being obvious (even in summer)
The bin they've come up with is very small, in fact its only about 1cm high and the whole thing fits in the palm of your hand.
As you can see from the images, this bin works with the Nevershare syringe's removable end and has enough capacity to hold 21 ends. All you have to do is push the end into the bin, click it off and then turn the unit around to the next hole. Of course this means (at least until a version that fits standard loose ends is available) that you'd have to use the Nevershare, but as it's one of the best syringe sets for injectors that's no bad thing.
What about the rest of the syringe
That's the genius part. The rest of the equipment can just be put in with your normal household waste, it's not a 'sharp' anymore. Yes it may still have blood in, but so does the tissue from the last nosebleed you had, at the end of the day it's a bit of plastic with a little blood in it.
Drug related litter
OK lets be totally honest though, the rest of the litter is still an issue. Even without a sharp on the end of it an inappropriately discarded syringe will still scare a member of the public. But the kind of person who disposes of needles in public areas was never going to use an old style bin anyway. This new more convenient smaller bin may at least make then take off the end.
We still need to continue promoting good disposal habits to injectors to avoid community fear and anger. After all, that anger gets directed at all injectors even the ones who take great care to safely dispose of their kit.
We also need to educate street cleaners to become aware that, although they still need to report discarded barrels, a distinction can be made between a syringe with a sharp and one without.
The new bins only cost 49p each when you buy 500 of them, which for a bin that holds 21 ends is great. But the other cost to think of is that of disposal. Drug services have to pay for disposal based on volume, with these bins being so small they will be far cheaper to get rid of.
These bins have the potential to change lots of aspects of NSP work and injecting, of course they are not a perfect solution but they do address some big issues. (Workers, ask yourself, would you carry around a standard sharps bin with you in summer?)
Nigel Brunsdon is the owner of Injecting Advice.com. He's been working in harm reduction since the 1990's, although he's previously a frontline needle programme worker he now spends most of his time developing online resources for drugs workers and users.