Local program collects 1,200 pounds of used sharps

Needle collection

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – A local program has been collecting used needles in the community for nearly three years. While not all of those needles are drug-related, the goal of the program is to keep them off the streets and prevent the spread of disease.

Eric Bashaw is part of a team of highly trained people who empty red boxes designed for sharps. The boxes are placed throughout La Crosse County.

“We do a rotation every three weeks,” Bashaw said, environmental compliance manager at Gundersen Health System. “It’s usually about 25-30 pounds per container.”

They are specifically designed to hold used needles and syringes.

“People have an easy option to dispose of their needles now,” Bashaw said. “We decided it would be a better option for us to go empty than having volunteers from the public do it.”

The program was started by the community’s Alliance to Heal initiative driven to keep people safe from potential diseases these sharps may be exposed to. Organizers use data of calls where needles were left.

“We were able to cluster that data into what is called a heat map,” said Pat Corran, community risk educator with the La Crosse Fire Department.

Areas with high amounts of calls received a red box. La Crosse has four. There are two in Onalaska and one in West Salem.

“It’s just another step we can take to keep communities safe,” Corran said.

Bashaw said they’ve collected their share of shares since the program began nearly three years ago

“We probably collect somewhere between 5,000-6,000 needles per month,” Bashaw said.

They have collected about 1,200 pounds of needs during that time. The kind of needles they collect vary. They collect sharps related to illicit drug use to sharps from someone with diabetes.

Drug use affects cities all over the country, but the goal in La Crosse is keeping those needles from harming someone else. Bashaw said he is glad to use his training to make a difference in the community.

“It’s knowing that we are really doing something to help the community,” Bashaw said. “It’s something we have been trained to do to pay it forward.”

Corran said the program is doing what it was designed to do.

“We are heading in the right direction for sure,” he said.

There are plans to add a fifth box in La Crosse on Losey Boulevard in the coming weeks. Once Gundersen collects the needles, they sterilize them and ship them off to be destroyed.

Officials at Gundersen say they get a high number of diabetic needles. They also collect veterinarian needles as well.