California adds drug and needle take-back program

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a drug and needle take-back program to be paid for by producers.


California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law SB 212, which establishes a statewide take-back system for sharps and medications, according to a California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC).

CPSC reports that California is the first state in the U.S. to establish a producer-funded take-back program to provide safe and convenient disposal options for both home-generated pharmaceutical drugs and sharps waste.

“The California Product Stewardship Council has worked tirelessly for the last eight years to get the pharmaceutical industry to work with us to put in place a statewide take-back program,” says Heidi Sanborn, senior advisor and former executive director of the CPSC. “It took passing 10 county and three city ordinances and the hard work of Senator Jackson and Assemblymembers Ting and Gray, as well as many others to successfully negotiate a compromise with the medical industry to make this happen.”

According to CPSC, SB 212 addresses the problems that exist due to a lack of a statewide system to manage these products at their end-of-use life. Through this bill, manufacturers of sharps, prescriptions and over-the-counter medications will be required to create, fund and participate in a statewide take-back system. 

In addition, CalRecycle estimates 936 million sharps are used by consumers in California every year, and about 31 percent of those are thrown in the trash. A study by University Mass Lowell in 2015 also estimates 7 percent of needles are flushed, and needle-stick injuries occur with unacceptable frequency. Another study completed by the Environmental Research and Education Foundation in 2018 found that 4 percent of material recovery facility (MRF) workers are stuck by needles each year while doing their jobs.

CPSC reports that the following are key provisions of SB 212:

• It establishes comprehensive, producer-funded take-back programs to provide safe and convenient disposal options for home-generated pharmaceutical drugs and sharps waste.
• It removes excess drugs from people’s homes, preventing accidental poisonings and abuse, which fuel the opioid epidemic.
• It protects solid waste, parks, hotel, wastewater, sanitation and other workers, river and beach clean-up volunteers, and the public from needle-stick injuries.
• It requires producers of needles to reimburse local governments for any needles they collect and dispose.
• It requires retail pharmacy chains to make a reasonable effort to participate as a collector and—if there are not at least five collection locations in a county—that 15 percent of store locations must be a collection location.
• It requires producers to provide take-back bins for meds to any legal location that asks for one within 90 days.
• It preempts future local ordinances to ensure consistency and predictability for manufacturers and allows existing ordinances to keep operating or allows them to repeal and join the state program voluntarily.