If you see a discarded needle, you can choose to dispose of it yourself, or you can report it to have someone come and pick it up. You do not need to be afraid if you are cautious and follow the below instructions, as the risk of injury or infection is low.
What to do if you find a used needle on the street
- Get an empty non-breakable hard-sided container that needles can't poke through. The container must have a lid. You can use an empty pop bottle or a small coffee tin.
- Put the container on a flat surface.
- Use tongs or pliers to pick the syringe up by the barrel end and keep the pointed needle end away from you.
- DO NOT try to put the cap back on the needle.
- Put the needle in the container. Put the lid on tightly.
- Wash your hands.
- Place the container in a safe place where it won't be opened by children.
- Take to the nearest needle disposal drop box (see https://biomedwaste.com/find-a-needle-drop-box/) or use our online reporting tool to inform us and we'll send someone out to pick it up within a few days.
When to call for help
- If you are too nervous to pick it up.
- If you see many needles in a pile, for example, in a stairwell or behind a dumpster.
- If you see broken needles scattered on the ground.
- If you have no way of taking the needle in a strong container to a safe place.
What are the risks?
We know picking up other people’s garbage with bare hands is not a good idea because it’s an easy way to spread infection. Needles are like other garbage. Picking up needles with your bare hands if you have an open cut is a way to get infected. When a person finishes using a needle, some of that person’s blood may still be inside the needle or syringe. If you get poked by a needle, you could get sick as well.
Most people will not get sick by picking up or being poked by a used needle. When viruses in needles are exposed to the open air, the viruses usually die. There is no way to know how long a needle has been lying where you found it, so it is best to be safe.
- You may get tetanus.
- You may get a Staphylococcus Aureus infection.
- You may get hepatitis B.
- You are at risk getting hepatitis C, but the risk is negligible.
- You are extremely unlikely to get HIV because the virus does not live in the air for more than a few minutes. No one has ever gotten HIV from a needle stick injury from an abandoned needle.*
* BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS; Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
What should you do if you get poked by a needle?
If you have been poked by a needle or other sharp object that you suspect has been in contact with blood or a body fluid containing blood.
- Wash the area with soap and water.
- Let it bleed freely.
- Got to the nearest hospital emergency department immediately