Which Diabetes Supplies Can be Recycled?


It can already be confusing when you’re trying to figure out whether a household item can go in the recycle or garbage bin. When it comes to diabetes supplies, it’s important to know whether your supplies can go in the recycling bin, the trash, or a biohazard container. And to make it a little more confusing, some diabetes supplies are actually considered in a more modern category: e-waste!

Improper waste disposal is not only a problem within the diabetes community but also globally. In this guide, we break down what to do with your used or expired diabetes supplies. 

Which diabetes supplies are recyclable?

Unfortunately, many diabetes supplies are not recyclable. However, the majority of the containers that your supplies come in are

  • Examples include: boxes that your insulin vials, insulin pens, blood glucose meter(s), continuous glucose monitor(s), test strips, lancets, pump supplies, etc. come in! Of course, all of your medical and insurance paperwork is also recyclable.

Cross off any patient information before you flatten and recycle these containers or discard any paperwork that contains your confidential patient information. (Get your paper shredder out!) Since it varies significantly from product to product, carefully read the packaging on your diabetes supplies to determine which (and what parts) of your supplies are recyclable.

Why is it difficult to recycle diabetes supplies?

The ability to recycle diabetes supplies is a hot topic within the diabetes space as plastic waste has become a huge global concern. The main issue surrounds sharps (syringes, lancets, insertion devices, etc.), which tend to be fully integrated into many diabetes products and supplies. Sharps cannot be recycled or trashed.

No continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or insulin pump manufacturers currently have recycling take-back programs. Omnipod did have one, but it was discontinued in 2018. However, in recent years, CGM and insulin pump manufacturers have made efforts to address plastic waste and reduce waste. 

CGM products keep getting smaller, which is attractive to patients and helps the environment by reducing plastic use. 

How do I figure out if I can recycle my diabetes supplies?

Recyclable diabetes supplies should be evaluated case by case. The Medtronic Mio sets, for example, are 95 percent recyclable as long as the needle is removed. (The directions for your insulin pump insertion process include directions on safely removing the needle.) Recyclable diabetes supplies should feature the recycling symbol on their packaging. Be sure to closely read the label in case only certain parts of the supplies are recyclable. 

Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) and polyethylene (high density) are recyclable mediums (unless they have sharps). Polyethylene (low density) (LDPE) and polypropylene are accepted by some recycling centers but not all. Polyvinyl chloride (V), polystyrene (PS) and other resins (OTHER) should be thrown in the garbage (unless they have sharps). 

Recycling regulations vary by state

What diabetes supplies should be thrown in the trash?

Unfortunately, most diabetes supplies also cannot go in the garbage. 

The supplies that can go in the garbage include:

Whenever you throw away used insulin pens or vials, it is recommended that you cover the product in something like cat litter or coffee grounds so that it’s not easily recognizable. This same guidance applies to expired diabetes medications that are able to be trashed.

Which diabetes supplies are e-waste?

You should throw most insulin pumps and CGM devices in an electronic waste bin at an e-waste center. The most straightforward way to find an e-waste center near you is to Google “e-waste center near me.” 

Many states have laws about e-waste. Some electronics stores manage e-waste disposal, but not all of them. Contact any electronics store before you bring e-waste to them.

Diabetes supplies that qualify as e-waste include:

  • Insulin pump devices
  • CGM receivers

If your CGM or insulin pump device is no longer usable or broken, disposing of it as e-waste makes sense, but if you are upgrading your device and it still works, you may consider donating it instead

Can I donate my used diabetes supplies?

There are state and federal laws and guidelines for donating used medical equipment or supplies. Not all supplies may qualify for donation. 

Contact your state’s department of health services or refer to a healthcare professional or pharmacist for more advice or guidance on donating used medical supplies and equipment in your region.

Which diabetes supplies are biohazards?

Every state has different regulations for safe medical biohazard disposal. Essentially, any of your diabetes supplies that contain a sharp (needle) need to be thrown in a biohazard bin. CGM sensors and insulin pump infusion set sharps aren’t as noticeable, but they do contain tiny needles that constitute biohazards. Any used sharps should be disposed of immediately after use.

Diabetes supplies that should be put in a biohazard container include but are not limited to:

  • Pen needles
  • Syringes
  • Lancets
  • Auto-injectors (for insulin)
  • CGM sensors
  • Insulin pump infusion sets

Any medical sharps should be put in a biohazard container and dropped off at the appropriate waste site. Disposal sites may include a biohazard drop-off site controlled by your state or a local pharmacy or hospital. Call the pharmacy or hospital ahead of your visit to ensure they take sharps. Not every pharmacy or hospital does. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a list of cleared sharps containers that are available through pharmacies, online retailers and medical suppliers. Some healthcare professionals may also carry them. If you don’t want to buy a cleared sharps container or don’t have access to one, you can turn household supplies like a laundry detergent or liquid laundry softener container into a sharps container. 

Whether you use an FDA-cleared container or create a compliant one, you should always dispose of your needles with the needle side down. 

How to create your own sharps container

There are careful guidelines to follow when creating your own sharps container at home.

Your do-it-yourself (DIY) sharps container cannot be puncturable or see-through. It must be heavy-duty, leak-proof and able to sit on its own. The container has to be able to close with a tight lid that screws on. 

  • You cannot use: milk containers, water bottles, other clear plastic containers, glass containers or soda cans to create your DIY sharps container.
  • You can use: laundry detergent container, metal coffee grounds canister, etc. (Learn how!)

Always clean out your used laundry detergent or liquid laundry softener container thoroughly before putting your sharps in it. Your container should be completely dry before you start using it. Whenever your DIY container is ¾ of the way full, you should stop filling it, close it off by screwing the lid on tight and seal it with duct tape. Always label your container as “Sharps” or “Sharps—Do Not Recycle.”

Some states have sharps disposal programs. Ohio even allows you to put it out during regular trash pick-ups. Never recycle your sharps containers! Sharps should always be kept out of reach of children and pets. 

Improperly disposing of sharps is a safety and environmental hazard. By adequately separating your diabetes supplies into the correct disposal categories, you can help to make your communities healthier and more environmentally friendly.

WRITTEN BY Julia Flaherty, POSTED 04/13/22, UPDATED 12/14/22

Julia Flaherty is a published children’s book author, writer and editor, award-winning digital marketer, content creator and type 1 diabetes advocate. Find Julia’s first book, “Rosie Becomes a Warrior.” Julia finds therapy in building connections within the diabetes community. Being able to contribute to its progress brings her joy. She loves connecting with the diabetes communities, being creative and storytelling. You will find Julia hiking, traveling, working on her next book, or diving into a new art project in her free time. Connect with Julia on LinkedIn or Twitter.