Health Care Waste at Home

This subtopic addresses the subjects of hypodermic needles, mercury fever thermometers, and pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCP). According to the U.S. EPA, PPCPs comprise a very broad, diverse collection of thousands of chemical substances, including prescription and over-the-counter therapeutic drugs, fragrances, cosmetics, sunscreen agents, diagnostic agents, nutraceuticals, biopharmaceuticals, and many others.

Attention all home sharps users and home care professionals! As of September 1, 2008, home-generated sharps can no longer be disposed of in the trash or in recycling containers. Visit CalRecycle’s Sharps Waste Disposal webpage for more disposal options and additional information.

Visit CalRecycle’s Medication Waste Disposal web page to learn about safe disposal methods.

Important!!! The procedures below ONLY apply to medical wastes FROM A PRIVATE HOME IN CALIFORNIA. If a health care facility or health care professional visiting a private home followed these procedures for sharps and pharmaceuticals, they might be in violation of the law. Health care facilities and in-home health care professionals are subject to the Medical Waste Management Act (AB 109, Hayden, Chapter 1613, Statutes of 1990) (California Health and Safety Code, Sections 117600 – 118360). Health care facilities and health care professionals should contact their local health departments for information. Information also is available from the California Department of Health Services or the California Department of Public Health.

Officially, there are no California medical regulations governing household medical waste. For questions regarding household medical waste and pharmaceuticals, contact the California Department of Health Services or the California Department of Public Health.

For questions regarding mercury thermometers and other products that contain mercury, contact the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).

Where California Households Can Dispose of Mercury Fever Thermometers

Mercury fever thermometers must not be placed in the trash and must be disposed of as household hazardous waste. There are four places you can search for household hazardous waste facilities:

    • Look in the city or county government section of your local white pages, under the environmental health or public works department, for a household hazardous waste listing;
    • Call 1-800-CLEANUP (1-800-253-2687), a service of Earth 911;
    • Visit the Earth 911 website; or
    • See the Local Enforcement Agency Directory on this website.

Mercury is released from landfills into the air. It is suspected that this is primarily due to chemical modification by bacteria which converts elemental mercury (the stuff in thermometers) to methyl mercury.  Elemental mercury is hazardous, and methyl mercury is much more hazardous. Mercury also readily evaporates. This not only poses a risk in landfills, it poses a risk at home.

Mercury is readily absorbed into the body when you touch it. If you are near enough to touch elemental mercury, for example after a mercury thermometer breaks, you are most likely also inhaling elemental mercury.

Where California Households Can Dispose of Lotions, Cosmetics, and Similar PPCPs

Please do not put lotions, cosmetics, and similar products down the drain or into the toilet. Ultimately, there is no such thing as throwing something away. When we “throw away” something, we really just put it somewhere else for long-term storage. In the case of lotions, cosmetics, and similar PPCPs, the best “somewhere else” to throw these items is your household trash, which in most cases will eventually find its way to a landfill. Landfills are the best place at present to dispose of PPCPs when they are no longer being used.

For more information contact: Health Care Waste Reduction and Recycling,