Several factories in southern Vietnam were recently discovered to be recycling used medical syringes—purchased from scrap dealers and sometimes collected from drug dealers or filled with residual blood—only to be sold and remade into plastic items such as plastic bags, bowls, and cutlery.
The factories receive 15 tons of plastic waste each day, and most of the plastic items processed in these facilities, which also take plastic toys and water bottles, are used syringes.
The recycling process involves a simple, untreated grinding of the plastic (in this case, polypropylene) into plastic particles after the needles have been removed. The plastic particles are then rinsed twice before being packaged and sold for production of new materials.
According to this Thanh Nien News article, just last month one of the factories offered its product to a nearby factory for plastic bags.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Health does require syringe recycling to include a treatment process in order to protect recycling workers and consumers as well as the environment, but it’s unclear how much this requirement is enforced.
An estimated 400 million syringes are disposed of in California each year, and proper disposal and handling is needed to protect the environment and safety of waste management employees. Since 2008 it has been illegal to throw away medical sharps in the trash in California, but many users still need convenient, cost-effective, and safe disposal options. Find out more here.