Biomedical Waste Management amidst Covid-19 Pandemic

Biomedical Waste Management amidst Covid-19 Pandemic

– by Ojas Mali

SARS-COV-2 is a new virus responsible for an outbreak of respiratory illness known as COVID-19 which is now a pandemic disease. As we all know the disease is spreading throughout the world. The developed and developing nations are striving hard to minimise the spread of the virus and help eradicate this disease forever.

Following the lockdown procedure given by WHO (World Health Organisation)  in our country we have reduced the risk of community transmission by a huge margin but Corona has also brought different challenges with it.Out of which one of the challenge we are today going to address about is mismanagement of Biomedical waste (BMW) generated due to COVID-19.

 

What is BMW?

BMW is any waste produced during the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of human or animal research activities pertaining thereto or in the production or testing of biological or in health camps. India’s pollution spotter, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), has released guidelines for handling, treatment and safe disposal of biomedical waste generated during treatment, diagnosis and quarantine of patients confirmed or suspected to have the novel corona virus disease (Covid-19). Under these, isolation wards in hospitals have to maintain separate colour-coded bins for the segregation of waste. A dedicated bin, labelled ‘COVID-19’, needed to be kept in a separate, temporary storage room and should only be handled by authorised staff. Separate deployment of sanitation workers in these wards for biomedical waste management was also recommended. The trolleys used for transportation of BMW should be fixed and should not be used for other things. The board also asked for a record of the waste generated in isolation wards.

For quarantine camps and home care of the suspected patients, the CPCB advised collection of biomedical waste in yellow bags and the bins containing these should be handed over to authorised collectors. The waste excluding BMW should be disposed off according to the SolidWaste Management Rules 2016. Although the guidelines are made but there are some problems in implementing it.

” The guidelines quote that sanitation workers in isolation wards shall be provided with adequate personal protective equipment (PPEs) including three layer masks, splash proof aprons/gowns, nitrile gloves, gumboots and safety goggles.”

A report states that many sanitation workers work on a contract basis in hospitals and so the hospital administration is not prioritizing them to be supplied with PPEs as stated in guidelines. Hence sanitation workers are falling short of PPEs and this is a big reason to worry! After collection from isolation wards the waste is transported to common biomedical waste treatment facility centres (CBMWTF) and is incinerated there .

A report states that there are nearly 200 CBMWTFs which serve for 600 to 700 cities, and sadly villages don’t have these facility centres.

Is it be possible for India’s healthcare facilities to handle the spike in biomedical waste generated due to COVID-19?

According to 2017 CPCB report 559 tonnes/day BMW waste is generated out of which 8% is mismanaged due to less plant capacity, which means our systems are at risk in this high time of COVID-19. However, biomedical waste if any generated from quarantine canters/camps should be collected separately in yellow bags and bins.

India lacks in segregating wet and dry waste, so segregation of BMW is a big challenge, also the lack of awareness of segregating the household BMW amongst common people may lead to a bigger problem.

A recent study published in New England Journal of Medicine indicated that the virus stays on cardboard for about 24hours and on plastics and stainless steel for about 72hours this arises a concern for sanitation workers which can’t be ignored.

Despite guidelines that permit CBMWTF centres to work for extra hours and at places where CBMWTFs are not available, they suggest for deep burial of the waste. But if we go according to what experts have to say we are not prepared for worst conditions and hence this can be challenging.

Recent reports have illustrated the dangers of dumping medical waste related to the treatment and containment of the virus:

In Pune, face masks dumped by users in household garbage were being collected by rag pickers, on March 23, 2020. “There is no mechanism for collection and disposal of masks and medical waste generated by more than 2,000 people under home quarantine across the district for having a travel history or showing COVID-19 symptoms,” the report said.

In Thane, a man was caught putting over 100,000 used face masks out to dry so that he could resell them in the market, on March 12, 2020.

A heap of medical waste was found lying in the open in Delhi’s Sharan Vihar area, on April 1, 2020. Discarded face masks, tunics, gowns, caps and syringes were found in the dump.

Public use of facemasks:

The Ministry of health and family welfare prepared guidelines for using mask which was  informed in a press release on 13.03.2020.

The cities of Mumbai and Delhi made it mandatory for anyone in public from 9th April 2020.

Looking at the current situation it is mandatory in almost all cities to wear mask when you go outside your house, if not practiced strict judicial actions will be taken.

The biggest risk posed by these masks is that it could have been used by possibly infected but asymptomatic persons and hence potentially highly infectious. This forms risks of community spread in general and pose grave dangers for sanitary workers and stray animals. People using facemasks, tissues and other essentials in hotspot areas can pose a major threat, coming in contact with this waste can lead to step in community spread, hence this waste should be segregated.

How to address disposal issue?

Public awareness regarding handling and proper disposal methods which include efforts of local media and TV channels, letting people understand the dangers of it is must through social media. For the waste management system to respond effectively we need cooperation from corporate sector, nongovernmental organizations, hospital administrations, pollution control boards  and common people. This collaboration can help us deal with ground level problems like data collection, shortage of PPEs for rag pickers and sanitation workers, help us manage household generated BMW and keep a track of it and also  many other problems .

As per my knowledge and thorough study I would like to suggest a feasible solution  for one of the problem stated above. It is to keep a large yellow coloured container named as Household biomedical Waste Collector (HBMWC) in a garbage collection van to specially dispose of BMW generated at house which contains single used facemasks, tissues and other essentials which can contribute in spreading the virus. The reason to do this is it can be easy for sanitary workers to segregate at source and collect the waste in the container. Additional advantage is this can be a public awareness drive done with minimum expenses which will aware people for disposing the generated household BMW separately.

Now understanding the surge in production of masks, use of reusable cloth masks is considered as an alternative solution for people who are healthy. Looking at it from waste point of view this alternative can efficiently reduce the waste because it is reusable so it can be washed in hot water and soap, well dried before reusing as per the guidelines given by Ministry of health and family welfare

About the Author
Ojas Mali is an Environmental engineer from KIT’s college of engineering Kolhapur, Maharashtra. His passion for understanding the vivid & fascinating concept of Microplastics eventually developed as a research topic over the years. Currently, he is working on Identification and removal of water sources from the Kolhapur region in Maharashtra, India. His hobbies include portraying stories through photographs, reading books, traveling as well as creating awareness about plastic pollution. You can write to ojasnest007@gmail.com

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