Is a "Pen" really a "Sharp"?

I have Diabetes type 2. About 2 1/2 months ago my Dr. added a once weekly injectable to the 2 pills I take twice a day to keep my glucose down. It comes in a spring loaded pen, I guess, that sticks me when I hold the button and 5 seconds later retracts the needle. There doesn’t seem to be an accidental way to contact the retracted needle though I imagine if someone deliberately and patiently tried to make contact they could.

Online reading about these pens suggested using a sharps container for the used pens. Those are available but NOT reusable and a bit on the pricey side. But a plastic coffee can was suggested and I go through one of those every 5 weeks. At the training session with a RN I asked when my can gets full do I bring it to the office or nearby hospital for disposal. She looked puzzled and said to just tape the lid to the can, label it “Medical Waste” and toss it in the trash.

So I’m wondering, considering these pens are fairly safe after use, dare I just chuck them in the waste basket?

Yes, a pen is a sharp — retractable needle or not. No, you should not just throw a used one in the trash. Plus, any used needle is medical waste and should be labeled accordingly (as the RN said). Sharps containers do double duty. The coffee can will work, but sharps containers on Amazon start at $7. I got mine at a CVS for less than $20.

Some medical offices will collect them from you for disposal.

A coffee can, taped and labeled, also protects garbage collectors and hapless animals or children who might happen upon your garbage.

Other things can be used. Liquid laundry detergent bottles, 1/2 gallon milk jugs, etc. heck, those pens would even go in the neck of a 2L pop bottle.

Ahh, this is something I know about.

First, yes it is a “sharp”; there is a dirty needle contained within.

Second, you do not need to buy a sharps container, but do not use a milk jug or or metal coffee can. The plastic is too thin. You need to use something made of heavy plastic, such as an empty laundry detergent or bleach bottle. One of those plastic coffee “cans” would be ok.Then, tape it up, label it medical waste, and you can typically throw that out with the regular garbage.

However, the rules do vary from municipality to municipality, so you should call your local gov’t to make sure that is kosher.


I use a glass pickle jar, taped and labeled, for my insulin syringes.


Where I previously lived, I returned the full sharps container back to the pharmacist for disposal. Easy peasy. When I moved to a new state, I inquired about the same arrangement. Uh, no, just tape up the used sharps box and toss in the the trash. I looked online and it said the same thing for my new location.

Thank you all. I’ve been using a plastic Maxwell House coffee can. I’ll have to pick up a roll of 2" masking tape to seal it.

If this pen is what I think it is, it’s not being used to inject into blood but instead into muscle and fat. So is there as much danger as with a hypodermic needle?

My wife and I use empty Vitamin Water bottles for our cat’s insulin syringes. Each bottle holds about a weeks worth of syringes. A local county health department office has a collection box (think mail collection box) and we toss the bottles full of needles in. I asked a gal in the office about the sharps collection, she said the box is emptied a couple times a day and transported to a local medical waste disposal company that burns the waste. I don’t know if they empty the bottles before they are destroyed.

Would suggest packing tape instead of masking tape—masking tape is designed to be removed easily

When we had a diabetic barn cat, I put used syringes into empty Cranberry Juice Cocktail bottles. The veterinarian would take these when full and for $30 they’d send them for destruction. My gf knew a woman with a diabetic cat whose vet did not charge for this service, but a few phone calls determined that her veterinarian just threw her used syringes out with their normal trash.

Maybe not as much danger, but still if someone got stuck (say, if the pen shattered, or they got poked by something nearby and weren’t sure if it were your pen) they wouldn’t know if you had HIV or another bloodborne pathogen, so there would need to be testing, prophylaxis, and or fear.

Yes, it’s an IM, not IV injection. It’ll be a while before I fill the 42oz plastic coffee can. I’ll have to shop around for some packing tape.

Absolutely. A dirty needle is a dirty needle.


Tangentially related story I’ve told here before: I took (and later was licensed) the Illinois EMT-Basic course and exam about 15 years ago. Truly a fascinating class, I learned a very great deal of real world skills there. It was time to talk about the Epipen and the teacher, a Chicago FD veteran, brought out the example Epipen. It’s one of the few drugs EMT-Bs are allowed to help administer in the field. He suddenly jammed it into his leg. The class gasped in horror and he grinned and said it was a discharged pen with the needle broken off. Some years earlier, they used a live pen and a student couldn’t help himself and selfadministered the Epipen for no apparent reason and they just still used the same broken one. Makes sense.