Covid-19 affect for the Healthcare waste

The exponential increase in population growth has led to an increase in the production of municipal solid waste (MSW). Different types of waste have different impacts on human health and the environment, depending upon their constituents. Medical waste is one of the major fractions of MSW. Medical or healthcare waste comprises hospital waste and laboratories waste. Before COVID-19, the estimated waste generated by the healthcare sector was almost 16 billion tons. Out of which, 15 percent of the waste was considered hazardous. However, the emergence of the coronavirus has exacerbated the problem. The disease prevalence has changed the quantity as well as the composition of waste. Gloves and face masks have increased, and they contain the infection. Some other types of waste are also generated from COVID. This article will give you an in-depth knowledge of the healthcare waste problem that arises due to COVID-19.


Before COVID-19, the estimated waste generated by the healthcare sector was almost 16 billion tons.

What is the Problem? It becomes mandatory during the pandemic to wear a mask when you go outside. Imagine each person wearing a new mask every day or the day after tomorrow, where the count for masks goes in one day? Similarly, healthcare workers use new personal protective equipment (PPEs) such as boots, aprons, and gowns each day to save themselves and the patients. This way, the production of waste from gloves and face masks increased. Furthermore, caring for the suspected person at home and in hospitals leads to the production of infectious waste that was not produced otherwise. The quantity of waste differs from country to country per day per bed. A study conducted in Iran showed an average of 102% increase in healthcare waste generation. In Lebanon, healthcare waste generation was 450 000 kg in October 2020. The waste produced during a pandemic is mostly plastic. Plastic has its impacts on the environment – water and soil – and also on humans. The infection containing waste has the potential to harm others as well, so disposal management is another concern.  
Photo by Elizabeth McDaniel on Unsplash
Photo by Elizabeth McDaniel on Unsplash
Problems that are linked with poor waste management of COVID-related waste are as follows:

Exposure to the virus from secondary resources:

In developing countries and also in developed, the used material is dumped similar to the other waste. These used items have the potential to spread the infection far more than the transmission from the infected person. Because the waste is openly dumped, and the virus can travel via air current. Poor waste management: Waste management was a burning issue before COVID-19 because of the growing world population. Stockpiling of masks and gloves has worsened the condition. Therefore, the management of waste has become a global issue. Usual practices for waste management around the world are incineration, burning, and open dumping. And, of course, COVID waste will be handled similarly. This will affect the air quality and increase water pollution. Plastic in water bodies is a threat to aquatic life. Also, once it becomes a part of the food chain, micro-plastic in water affects humans and animals. According to UNEP, managing waste sustainably while mitigating air pollution is a great challenge. Countries that do not have standard waste management policies to manage the pandemic waste will have serious consequences. Preventive Measures: Prevention is always better than motivation as it is cost-effective and reduces pollution also. Prevention of waste generation is a targeted step from now on. However, the management of already generated COVID-19 waste is the actual problem. Considering the increase in waste generation in a pandemic, a change in hospital waste management is necessary. Although the hospitals have satisfying management practices, the chances of virus spread due to poor management are also there. Since the waste has the potential to cause infection, proper segregation, storage, and disinfection become necessary. All of the virus-related waste is considered infectious, including masks. So, the segregation of waste from all other healthcare waste is necessary. In this regard, hospitals should have a record for every material used inwards for patients and by medical staff. Proper dumping of material in a separate container should ensure that it must be disinfected. A cost-effective method for disinfection is autoclaving. Disinfection of waste before throwing it away in landfill sites possibly reduces the chances of spreading infection. A study conducted in Iran showed that proper disposal of healthcare waste generated from covid related activities reduced the risk of infection. Patients who were attended at the house were also generating infectious waste. For this, community administration must have guidelines for households to disinfect the waste before. Also, if the facility of disinfection is not available, there must be a proper solution for disinfection by state. Make a Reusable mask: The face mask has become a necessity because it protects us. But the disaster that would come from stockpiling of masks is HUGE.  Strings of reusable masks caught sea animals in them and caused their death. So, try to use the reusable mask for everyday needs. These can be masks made from cloth or any household material. Homemade masks are easy to use and available in different designs; how cool! These are not only affordable but also reduce the individual’s footprint. Procure puncture-resistant and reusable gloves for medical staff. This will reduce waste. Awareness among people: Provide guidance and training to people on reusing their products. Furthermore, train the waste-handlers for waste collection, the sort I on, and disinfection. A study has shown that thousands of front-line workers died while handling infectious waste. So, proper training is necessary. Although infectious waste cannot be reused, face masks can be recycled to minimize the impact. Ban on products made of plastic material could be a wise step to combat existing pollution.

Conclusion:

COVID-19 hit the world in the fourth quarter of the year 2019. It causes massive scale destruction around the globe in terms of human lives, economic loss, and environmental impacts. PPEs used by the whole world were single-used plastic products that have become a challenge nowadays. Vast piles of face masks, gloves, and products worn by healthcare workers are posing severe environmental challenges. Some measures to minimize the impact include proper handling of waste and its disinfection before disposal. Furthermore, the prevention of waste generation is a crucial step towards sustainable waste handling.

References:

  • https://www.c40knowledgehub.org/s/article/Reducing-waste-and-protecting-waste-workers-in-the-COVID-19-crisis?language=en_US
  • https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/health-care-waste
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7447614/
  • https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40201-021-00650-9
  • https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0734242X211003970