The problem has drawn attention at the state level.
A law signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in September is the first in the nation that will put the responsibility on manufacturing companies for the safe disposal of hypodermic needles and other sharps waste.
The bill, which goes into effect in 2021, requires needles and sharps producers to establish, fund and promote statewide take-back options for users.
Heidi Sanborn, a senior advisor at the California Product Stewardship Council in Sacramento, worked with local governments across the state for over a decade to get the law passed. The council works with cities to tackle waste management and recycling issues.
“The fact that it is 2019 and people are still getting stabbed on the sorting line needs to stop, which is why this bill is so important,” Sanborn said.
But until the law goes into effect, the burden of handling needle waste will continue to fall largely on local recycling centers and individuals.
There are three local drop-off locations listed on the Sonoma County Waste Management website where people can dispose of needles in hazardous sharps containers.
Residents can also search for additional drop-off locations by ZIP code on the website Safe Needle Disposal, but there are still only 16 areas listed within a 50-mile radius of Santa Rosa, some as far away as Vallejo, and many of which are available by appointment only.