Penn Waste recycling center seeing more needles

David Weissman
  • Penn Waste advises residents to dispose of needles in hard, durable bottles and then in trash.

Employees at Penn Waste's recycling center in Manchester Township are seeing more needles and medical waste lately, and it's presenting a safety hazard and productivity problem.

A bulldozer moves piles of recyclables toward a conveyor, which starts the sorting process at Penn Waste recycling center Friday, March 25, 2016. Penn Waste is urging customers to contain medical waste, such as dirty needles, and dispose of it in their regular trash for the safety of their workers who sort by hand. Bill Kalina photo

The facility places all needles and medical waste in cartons, and the facility's director of operations, Kathy Masch, said last month was the most they've seen since opening in February 2015.

Steve Houser, manager of the center, said his employees filled three full cartons in February.

Penn Waste recycling center sorter Robert Pullo Jr., center, pulls items from a conveyor at the Manchester Township facility Friday, March 25, 2016. For the safety of sorters, Penn Waste is urging customers to contain medical waste items like needles and dispose of them in their regular trash. Bill Kalina photo

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Houser said the line typically runs 22 hours per day, six days a week. When a sorter finds a needle, the entire system must be shut down while it's properly disposed of and the manager looks for more needles.

The system shutdown usually lasts for about five minutes, according to Houser, who said this will often occur multiple times per day.

All of the recycling is hand-sorted by 28 employees, who work on 10 different parts of the line. The sorters wear protective gloves, but needles have still punctured several employees, Masch said. No employees have been seriously injured yet, he added.

Medical waste and needles are not recyclable materials, said Amanda Davidson, Penn Waste's director of communications. Penn Waste recommends placing needles in hard, non-recyclable plastic bottles, such as empty laundry detergent bottles, and throwing them in the trash.

The recycling center at 3625 Mia Brae Drive sorts recycling from parts of York, Lancaster, Dauphin, Cumberland and Adams counties.

— Reach David Weissman at