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Scientific management of COVID-19 waste: An urgent need

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Dr Tricha Kulhalli, Consultant Pathologist, Specialist Hospital, gives the mantra of segregating the waste at the source in the pandemic situation to ensure the protection of healthcare workers and sanitisation helpers

The World Environment Day is celebrated on 5th June every year. This time, the United Nations (UN) has chosen the theme ‘Ecosystem Restoration,’ and one of the ways to achieve this is preservation through prevention. With the COVID-19 pandemic, medical waste has increased several hundred times and there is an urgent need to manage and dispose of this waste scientifically.

The only mantra to manage any kind of waste is the successful segregation of the waste at the source. This, especially in a pandemic situation, has been the key element that ensures the protection of healthcare workers and sanitisation helpers. It is a moral, social and environmental responsibility that behooves anyone facing a pandemic.

COVID waste can be grouped as wet, dry and sanitary waste. These can be generated at places where COVID patients are under home care or in COVID Care Centres and hospitals. Bio-medical waste is to be collected and stored in separately-dedicated bins and trolleys that have an additional label of ‘COVID-19’ for each waste category. These are usually yellow-coloured bins with non-chlorinated plastic bags that are pre-treated with sodium hypochlorite and finally incinerated.

Hospitals have been catering to the needs of COVID patients for over a year now and have dedicated wards and beds for COVID patients and have been using all measures of segregation and waste disposal over this period. In a 250-bedded hospital, for example, where waste management happens at the source, waste generated is typically 15-20 kgs per day, and, at the molecular laboratory, the waste generation is to the tune of two to three kgs on an average per day. Pre-treatment by autoclave is done where necessary, and the rest is handed over to the bio-medical waste department that disposes of the waste by incineration.

It is important to dispose of medical waste correctly as improper and inadequate waste management exposes the community, healthcare workers and sanitisation workers to infections, toxic effects and injuries. Not only the COVID virus, but many diseases are known to spread through aerosols, surfaces and needle-stick injuries. Sanitation workers collecting waste from quarantine homes and centres face health risks as the infectious waste generated from these locations can equally be hazardous, and, if not handled appropriately, can increase the spread of infection.

Since the sharp rise in the number of cases, we have seen that many patients opt for home isolation. Many a times, all members living in a household are infected, and, hence, the amount of bio-hazardous waste generated from a particular home is also high. Therefore, often, the question of ‘how should you deal with solid waste?’ arises. ‘Should you segregate the waste, and whom should you hand it over to?’

All types of COVID waste generated must be treated as bio-medical waste, and must be disposed of in yellow-coloured non-chlorinated plastic bags. These bags are provided by bio-medical waste management facilities. Only when these are not available, the waste can be disposed of in other bags, but must be marked and labelled as biomedical and must be in non-chlorinated plastic bags which are easily available online.

If you are in home isolation, you should club the dry waste and sanitary waste together and keep them in yellow bags. These would be collected by regular waste collectors or pourakarmikas, who would then hand it over to an authorised vendor who runs a Common Bio-medical Waste Treatment and Disposal Facility (CBWTF). Used masks and gloves from any household should be ideally kept in a paper bag for a minimum of 72 hours, and double bagged prior to disposal.

All these practices, if strictly followed, can help make a huge difference to our environment.

1 Comment
  1. Hari Priya says

    Thanks for the article and it’s really useful because Scientific management of COVID-19 waste is an urgent need in the current situation for the entire world.COVID waste can be grouped as wet, dry and sanitary waste is a really good idea.

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