Appropriate medical waste disposal- Important for coping with the pandemic.

Getting right with medical waste disposal is necessary for the recovery of the pandemic.

With the pandemic at its peak, everyone is discussing the social and economic impact of COVID-19, very few are talking about the unseen problem created by the medical waste generated. There was a sudden increase in the quantity of waste generated, especially the covid related plastic waste. According to the CPCB report, India generated around 33,000 tonnes of COVID-19 related bio-medical waste in the last seven months, with Maharashtra leading the consumption. The CPCB data highlights that Maharashtra generated 5,367 tonnes of COVID-19 waste and is the biggest contributor to India’s overall bio-medical waste.

Image source- https://science.thewire.in

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, regular biomedical waste generation in India was at 610 MT per day, which has gone up to 765.5 MT per day, an increase of 25%. Widely used hospital products like PPE kits, injections, syringes, urinary bags, IV bags, blood bags, tubes, etc are all single used plastic. Apart from the medical waste, the waste generated by the disposable plates and containers provided to the patients has also increased. If not managed scientifically, bio-medical waste can cause great harm to the environment and to human health as well. Unlike supermarkets where we can refuse single-use plastic bags, doing the same in hospitals is not possible as the patient is not in the position to deny it.

Plastic is used in the medical industry for its convenience and durability. Scrap dealers earn on the quality of plastic they trade to the seller and medical plastic waste is of good quality and will always fetch a good price. Unlike other single-use plastic, banning it won’t be a solution, but managing it is possible.

The management of this bio-medical waste is definitely challenging but correct disposal is also important. The CPCB in March 2020 issued specific guidelines for handling, treatment, and disposal of such waste at healthcare facilities, quarantine centers, homes, sample collection centers, laboratories, pollution control boards, urban local bodies, and common biomedical waste treatment facilities (CBWTFs). These guidelines also apply to the COVID-19 patients quarantining at home. As per these guidelines,

  • Masks and gloves used by people other than COVID-19 patients, whether infected or not, need to be cut and kept in a paper bag for 72 hours before discarding it.
  • Used masks, gloves, tissues, swabs contaminated with blood or body fluids of COVID-19 patients, including used syringes, medicines, are to be treated as bio-medical waste and collected in a yellow bag provided by the Urban Local Body (ULB).

You can read the guidelines here.

COVID19BWM App

  • In May 2020, CPCB developed this app and it was made mandatory by the Supreme court for all municipal corporations and state pollution control boards to track biomedical waste on a daily basis. This ensures the waste is collected, transported, and sent to a registered common biomedical waste treatment facility.
  • The app allows the generator of waste (urban local body in case of home care and hospital or laboratory), the picker of the waste (transport of the ULB or the waste treatment facility), and the waste treatment operator to enter the data so that COVID-19 biomedical waste can be tracked and monitored.

Challenges for management of waste caused by the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Segregation of waste is a major concern and a support system for creating awareness is a must.
  • There are still many cities where the use of a third bin for hazardous waste is implemented and the yellow bags meant for COVID-19 waste are mixed with other household waste.

What can be done

  • COVID waste needs to be defined and how to distinguish it from other waste should be explained to the people with the help of ULBs. Segregation of waste is necessary for the effective management of waste. A pretty basic step, but an urgent requirement right now amidst the pandemic.
  • Creating awareness campaigns, digitally mostly and regarding the use of PPE for healthcare and non-healthcare sectors.
  • Usage of PPE should be based on level of exposure, unnecessary use of it can be avoided which will definitely reduce waste.
  • Non- healthcare sectors need to be aware of basic hand hygiene, social distancing and should avoid the use of PPE unnecessarily.
  • Medical masks are reliable and trusted when it comes to hygiene, but the amount of waste it generates is overwhelming. Apart from the medical sector, others can use a simple double-layered cotton mask that can be reused. Buying cotton masks made locally will not only provide financial support to those making them but will reduce the load of medical mask waste.

Segregation of waste at source and safety of the ones collecting the waste is crucial. Getting right with appropriate medical waste disposal during COVID-19 will help in managing any fallouts in the future. Social lab has been conducting training for such sanitation staff where topics like proper use of PPE Kits, segregation of waste, how to handle medical waste from households, etc are covered. Such training and a little awareness among the people regarding waste segregation would help in the proper management of waste.

Contributed By- Ashlesha Karande, Communication Executive at Social Lab

Social Lab Environmental Solutions is a waste management company, which helps brands take back and scientifically dispose of post-consumer plastic waste of their products. Brands take our services to fulfill Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) obligation under Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2018.

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We are a waste management company, which helps brands take-back and scientifically dispose of post-consumer plastic waste of their products.