'A fresh project that we haven’t seen before': AMS funds new needle recycling program

A project to recycle needle caps will be piloted in UBC workplaces next year.

DECAP, a startup that created a device to safely remove and reuse needle caps from syringes, realized after piloting its first device that it had an opportunity to tackle needle cap waste.

“It's something new … we’re trying out to see if we can prove that it helps … needle caps get recycled. Because currently, no part of needles are being recycled at all,” said Ina Na, DECAP’s chief operations officer and also a UBC PhD candidate.

DECAP’s device allows the needle uncapping process, the recapping process and needle disposal process to all be done with one hand. This prevents the other hand from being near the sharp end of the needle, averting needlestick injuries — or accidentally poking yourself or others with a needle.

It also means that needle caps can be easily collected for recycling — which led the DECAP team to research how this could be done, according to Na. She said the team discovered that caps made from resin code five plastics can be recycled with other hard plastics.

Na added that there has been an increase in needle waste with the large number of COVID-19 vaccinations.

“All of those needle caps are just all going to end up in the garbage, whereas we're going to see if we can have them rerouted to be recycled instead,” she said.

To implement this project, DECAP received funding from the AMS Sustainability Projects Fund, which is available for UBC student-led sustainability groups or initiatives to apply for. It plans to use this funding for production of the DECAP device, to cover the cost of recycling of needle caps and to raise awareness about DECAP.

“It would be very great if we can get as many people at UBC who use needles to participate in this,” Na said.

To start, she said that DECAP is looking to install its devices in UBC workplace that use needles, including laboratories, hospitals, pharmacies and vaccination clinics. After the initial pilot phase, the team hopes to expand to safe-injection sites and at-home needle users.

Mary Gan, the AMS’s vice president finance, said she had never seen a sustainability project like DECAP before. She also thinks it is something that will serve a need on UBC, as many places use needles regularly.

“We saw the DECAP project as something that would be really useful for the community,” said Gan.