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WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH ALL THE COVID WASTE?

WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH ALL THE COVID WASTE?

With the onset of the second wave, India is currently fighting its biggest ever battle against coronavirus. The month of May 2021 for India recorded the highest number of cases and associated fatalities ever recorded by any country in any month since the beginning of the pandemic.

An upsurge of the cases has been accompanied by another pressing problem of biomedical waste generation. Disposable protective equipment and medical resources for 1.3 billion people in the form of masks, gloves, sanitisers, PPE kits, needles, syringes, bedding, cotton swabs, etc., have stressed the biomedical waste segregation, recycling and disposal system within the country. 

In order to curb spreading of infection, proper segregation of this waste into chemical, hazardous, contaminated, etc., along with proper packaging into yellow bags is imperative to ensure proper handling and disposal. 

While India struggles to increase production levels in order to accommodate the growing demand for protective equipment, little is done in order to ensure proper waste disposal of this biomedical waste being generated. 

HOW MUCH COVID WASTE ARE WE GENERATING?

As of January 2021, India had generated around 33,000 tonnes of covid biomedical waste within the last seven months which is being collected, treated and disposed of by 198 common biomedical waste treatment facilities from around the country. 

Case in point, Covid-19 waste generated for Delhi last December was estimated to be 321.32 Biomedical Waste (in tons). Delhi has two Common Biomedical waste treatment Facilities at Nilothi and Industrial Area. As per data available, Nilothi possesses 2 incinerators, each with a capacity of treating 250 kgs of waste per hour. Similarly, the plant in the Industrial Area has a capacity to treat 25,000 kg of waste per day. The waste generation is further expected to rise.

Dr. Sharad Chand, Research scholar at NGSM Institute of Pharmaceutical sciences reckons that the country does not have the required infrastructure or the human resources required to handle this huge amount of biomedical trash. A Supreme court report highlights an increase in the quantity of BMW ranging from 25 to 349tonnes/day during the month of May–July and it is  expected to  have doubled during the  months of  August–October.

An increase in waste generation without an equally strong disposal system is stressing the already hampered waste disposal infrastructure within the country. This untreated waste further risks infection if not properly handled and poses a threat to those who handle it without proper equipment. 

Other challenges include poor segregation and inadequate safety measures for sanitation workers. As the virus may live upto 24 hours within cardboard boxes and enclosed spaces and upto 72 hours on metals, sharps, etc. This poses a significant threat to the workers who have 

little access to protective equipment and thus risk contracting infection and spreading it within their community. 

Moving forward, the first step is proper segregation of waste. Even professionals working in the healthcare field are not properly informed on the disposal of all biomedical waste. In this case, proper segregation in yellow bags needs to be done by healthcare facilities and at individualistic level. More awareness is imperative. Information regarding proper disposal through newspaper channels, announcements, seminars, etc., must be given priority. Inability to properly do so puts our healthcare sanitation workers at risk for infection. 

BIOMEDICAL WASTE DISPOSAL GUIDELINES ARE AS CRITICAL AS PRODUCTION OF THIS EQUIPMENT ITSELF

As we battle the virus it is imperative that we have a proper waste disposal system in place. This is just as important as the production of this protective equipment. We need to upscale the services on the backend to ensure this is a closed circuit process. Affordable reusable masks (not cloth masks which do not provide adequate protection) and other equipment are some alternatives worth exploring in order to reduce the amount of waste generated.

The pandemic has affected our lives for over a year and is estimated to continue doing so within the near future. Even vaccination against the virus does not provide full immunity. Thus, it is important for us to adapt and continue using preventive measures. 

Conscious production and consumption of preventive resources along with improved disposal and recycling of the waste generated is imperative. We need to be more conscious of how this waste being generated is affecting our environment and our health. 

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Feature: COVID-19

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