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The COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Is Going to Create a Massive Waste Management Problem

How do you dispose of 660 million extra needles?

FAST COMPANY —

An unintended consequence of COVID-19 safety procedures has been a surge in trash, from face masks to gloves to, now, the discarded syringes and needles from COVID-19 vaccines. If laid end to end, the needles from the number of vaccine doses needed to inoculate the entire U.S. population—about 660 million—would create enough waste to wrap around the Earth 1.8 times, according to OnSite Waste Technologies, a medical waste disposal company. It’s certainly worthwhile trash to create, but with the vaccine rollout in full effect, and President Joe Biden’s goal to deliver 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days underway, companies that manage medical waste are having to handle this uptick.

Each needle, syringe, vial, and packaging joins the waste from approximately 198 million doses of influenza vaccine the CDC produced for this season, says Jim Anderson, vice president of product management and innovation at medical waste disposal company Stericycle, in a statement. “Fortunately, this waste isn’t being generated all at once, but rather in phases as the vaccine is rolled out across priority groups,” he notes. “Additionally, while the industry may see an influx of sharps waste, that volume is being offset by declines in waste volume in other areas such as elective procedures.”

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PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Fritcher

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