With 21 bio-medical waste facilities handling COVID-19 waste across the country, Masood Mallick, joint MD, Ramky Enviro Engineers and his team are helping hospital administrators in over 30,000 healthcare establishments deal with their biomedical waste. He gives more details to Viveka Roychowdhury on the precautionary measures to be taken during this pandemic and the training and protection given to his staff
With the increase in bio-medical waste during the COVID-19 pandemic, what are the challenges with regards to managing COVID-19 bio-medical waste as opposed to regular biomedical waste collection and disposal? How does this impact the time and cost of this process?
Ramky Enviro established India’s first bio-medical waste facility in 2000. Ramky Enviro works with over 30,000 healthcare establishments and 340,000 beds, as part of its biomedical waste management solutions. Ramky Enviro’s municipal waste management group continues to handle over 13,000 tonnes per day and the industrial waste management group handles 1 million tonnes per annum. Today, we have 21 bio-medical waste facilities handling COVID-19 bio-medical waste in partnership with leading hospitals across the country.
Biomedical waste handling needs utmost care at all times and Ramky biomedical waste experts take care of every detail from picking up the waste from the facility, tagging, transportation and responsible disposal. Biomedical waste comprises of masks, coveralls, syringes, gloves, test materials, etc. which is collected from various hospitals pan India and is further disposed of cautiously.
Currently, COVID-19-related waste is coming in from designated locations and there is a federal guideline on how to manage this. This is potentially infectious waste, and there is legislation in India on how to manage it. There are some additional precautions we have ensured, as COVID-19 virus is highly contagious. Experts at Ramky Enviro are ensuring that COVID-19 waste is packaged securely in double-lined, tear-resistant bags and carried in separate vehicles and incinerated at 1050 Celsius as soon as the designated waste vehicle reaches the treatment facility.
What are the special precautions that need to be taken as compared to the regular bio-medical waste disposal?
Ramky Enviro – whose operations include more than 15,000 ground staff located in 25 major cities across India and over 20,000 ground staff worldwide – has developed a comprehensive plan to ensure that its critical services continue through the foreseeable future. These critical services include medical waste management, municipal waste collection, waste treatment and disposal, operation of landfills and hazardous waste disposal.
Each of these services is conducted according to strict social-distancing protocols and with the appropriate health and safety measures, as set out by the Government of India. All our workers are equipped with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by the company.
In addition to the regular safety guidelines and protocol, Ramky Enviro is also adhering to the Central Pollution Control Board Guidelines, and WHO Guideline laid out specifically for COVID-19. Our team at Ramky Enviro has been trained and is highly dedicated in terms of adhering to our safety protocols while collecting and disposing of the biomedical waste. As part of the protocol, we have established robust standard operating procedures that are followed while handling the waste arising from the COVID-19.
Regular training is conducted on the COVID-19 specific SOPs to eliminate inter-mingling of waste. COVID-19 waste-related training and awareness sessions that focus on the critical nature of the waste and additional extra precaution are also organised for the waste handlers to ensure their safety and well-being at all times.
Do the staffers who collect COVID-19 bio-medical waste receive any special training? How have they been guided or instructed? What are the guidelines that need to be followed?
Regular training is conducted on the COVID-19 specific SOPs to eliminate inter-mingling of waste and use of COVID-19 specific PPE. COVID-19 waste-related training and awareness sessions that focus on the critical nature of the waste and additional extra precaution are also organised for the waste handlers to ensure their safety and well-being at all times.
What are the special gear and equipment that they require to use while handing COVID-19 bio-medical waste?
Personal protective equipment includes disposable full-body coveralls, masks, face shields/ safety goggles, gloves, footwear, and boot covers; besides, disinfectant sprays equipment is provided to each team and is employed before handling the waste and after unloading of waste to disinfect the vehicles and working surfaces.
How has COVID-19 impacted the environmental footprint of the health care sector, given that most PPEs are single-use and made of non-biodegradable material?
In response to COVID-19, hospitals, healthcare facilities and individuals are producing more waste than usual, including masks, gloves, gowns and other protective equipment that could be infected with the virus. There is also a large increase in the number of single-use plastics being produced.
COVID-19 has alarmingly impacted the environmental footprint, most of the PPEs which are used by the medical professionals are single-use PPEs and are being disposed of daily. We are doing our part by disposing of the PPEs securely by incineration.
The large volume vs. relatively lower weight of this waste also adversely affects the treatment and incineration capacity utilisation, leading to much higher cost of disposal. We are hopeful that this is only a short term impact.
How do you see this business and the company’s biomedical waste management footprint growing, given that the pandemic shows no signs of subsiding?
The coronavirus outbreak has impacted countless lives and has created an unprecedented need to band together against an invisible enemy. With the lockdown, whilst several industries slowed to a halt, being in the comprehensive waste management space, Ramky Enviro employees found themselves on the frontlines, essential to everyone’s daily lives protecting human health and the environment. We have been operational, dealing with a different set of challenges like increased cost of collection and disposal, throughout this period, keeping employees safe.
At the start of the pandemic in India REEL had developed a comprehensive plan to ensure many critical services continue through the foreseeable future, which includes municipal waste collection, treatment and disposal, hospital waste management and hazardous waste disposal from industries.
Has the pandemic improved awareness about proper disposable of biomedical waste?
Yes, there is a greater focus on biomedical waste as the pandemic continues to spread. The environmental degradation is the leading concern of our time, several ongoing – yet addressable – issues have contributed to the problem, including the increasing amount of waste which is not being managed scientifically, to global warming, and rising greenhouse gas emissions, among many other reasons. To build awareness and spur action around protecting the environment, Ramky Enviro’s employees across different locations in both rural and urban India recently engaged in a range of activities, including:
Digital webinars: 15,000 students from both government and private schools participated in REEL-sponsored webinars to raise awareness around the importance of personal hygiene, cleanliness, and social-distancing to combat the spread of COVID-19;
Planting trees: REEL employees planted 200,000 saplings across various sites to promote environmental regeneration;
Neighbourhood clean-up: the REEL team led the cleaning and sanitisation of over 100 villages to help them become waste-free, and implemented a plan to help them minimise pollution going forward.