L.A. County may assign syringe cleanup costs to Big Pharma

L.A. County may assign syringe cleanup costs to Big Pharma

medical health care needleNext month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors appears poised to require pharmaceutical companies to oversee and pay for the collection and disposal of  syringes (known as “sharps”) and unused prescription drugs.

The measure is unusual in that it assigns cleanup costs to the producer of a product instead of to its users. But many officials throughout Los Angeles County depict themselves as overwhelmed by the problem posed by proper disposal of the medical waste, especially items that pose health risks to trash handlers.

Burbank recycling coordinator Kreigh Hampel told KPCC that this waste is “one of the things we’re completely ill-equipped to take. … We just had one of our biggest days ever just a few months ago where we had almost 27 1/2 pounds of needles come through the line. The workers up there have leather gloves, but there are no gloves made that can stop a fine, little puncture from a needle.”

Drug companies question wisdom of approach

Santa Clara County reportedly has a similar law. But pharmaceutical companies appear ready to step up efforts to assign them a costly new task when the party involved is the most populated county in the United States:

“We agree that it’s really vital that consumers dispose of their medicines properly,” says Priscilla VanderVeer, spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a national trade association.

But “a mandated costly and frankly inefficient take-back program is not the way to do that,” she says. “There are cheaper, less burdensome ways to dispose of medicines.”

VanderVeer says a mandatory program would force a liability risk onto pharmacies that handle controlled substances. A better option, she says, would be to educate residents about proper disposal and to promote voluntary drug drop-off sites, such as those offered by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and some pharmacies.

That’s from KPCC’s reporting.

Mattress law set precedent for requiring help in cleanup

Forcing producers to help oversee the cleanup of the goods they make has a precedent in California. In September 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 254. The Waste360 website reported that “the law requires mattress manufacturers to create and manage a mattress recycling organization that will provide recycling services to municipalities for free. The program will be financed by a visible mattress recycling charge, or ‘eco-fee,’ which will be collected from consumers at the point of sale.”

The mattress program, which began gearing up this January, draws criticism from mattress makers.

Ryan Trainer, president of the Mattress Recycling Council, told Capitol Public Radio earlier this year that “at the end of its useful life, a used mattress has relatively low value. It’s a very bulky product and so we don’t want to handle it multiple times before it gets to the recycler and in turn to the scrap markets where the foam and steel can be reused in making new products.”

But so far mattress companies haven’t sued over the law, as some expected when it was first discussed several years ago.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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