COVID-19 and Biomedical Waste

Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic is spreading throughout the world. It has led to various health repercussions and has created fear and panic throughout the world. India is also struggling with this widespread disease and is doing everything possible to stop the spread of this highly contagious novel coronavirus.

A major contribution in this fight is made by the sanitation workers, doctors, police officers and many other organisations, who are risking their lives to protect others. In the process of treatment and quarantine period, a lot of medical equipment and personal protective items like face masks, gloves, sanitizers are used.

Through this article, we will learn about the biomedical waste which is generated during this period and the importance of proper disposal of such waste.

Bio-medical waste

Biomedical waste refers to any kind of waste which contains infectious or potentially infectious materials. It may be solid, or liquid. They have the propensity to further spread the infection if anyone comes into contact with it.

These biomedical wastes include face masks, protective suits, goggles and sterile surgical gloves. Such biomedical waste must be taken to a separate disposal facility and should be immediately incinerated upon its arrival. Handling biomedical waste safely and promoting a safer environment for everyone is more important than ever.

Challenges

1).Suppliers:

As the corona-virus hits India, the demand for preventive items like masks, gloves and sanitizers skyrocketed, and the suppliers are facing difficulties in keeping pace with this sudden rise.

The sale of masks across India has almost tripled in the country and in order to fulfil the demand, the government of India had put a ban on 8th February on the export of N-95 masks. The demand for mask-making machines has also increased by 250% within one month.

One of the major factors influencing this gap of demand and supply of protective materials is the panic-buying amongst the customers. With the rise in coronavirus cases, there is also a rise in false information and circulation of rumours on the social media, which leaves an impact on the psychology of the viewers forcing them to be anxious and thus creating panic amongst them.

Panic-buying of such essential products can’t be justified with the excuse of being “extra-cautious” or preparing for what ‘might’ come in future. Proactively adopting hygiene products is necessary for everyone. However, due to the stock-piling practices by everyone, the ones who are in actual deficiency of such products suffer the most.

Recently, when the air quality deteriorated in some cities, suppliers had managed to get adequate stocks of N-95 masks. However, the unpredicted COVID-19 pandemic will sooner or later result in a ‘stock-out’ situation amongst the suppliers.

2).Risk of Sanitation Workers:

These people are at risk when they handle unmarked medical wastes like masks, gloves, etc emerging from hospitals and homes where there may be COVID-19 patients under home-quarantine. There have been instances where no mechanism of proper collection and disposal of these bio-medical wastes were found.

These discarded masks, tissue papers, and gloves can spread the highly contagious virus and could become a source of infection. These wastes can infect rag pickers, cleaning staff, children or the poor people who live on the streets.

When the sales of masks and other preventive items like gloves saw a surge in the market, there wasn’t any attention towards the fact that these products do not come with instructions and guides related to their hygienic disposal.

The lives of sanitation workers and the environment, both are endangered when the contaminated waste if thrown into household garbage bags, without properly disinfecting them. These workers must have the required safety gears and then only they should incinerate the waste.

The medical professionals, police and community health workers are the ones who are in close contact with a suspect/confirmed COVID-19 patient and are at high risk of getting infected. Thus, using personal protective equipment and regular cleaning and sanitizing the frequently-touched surface is important so that the risk of spread of the infectious virus can be reduced.

3).Lack of Awareness:

Adherence to even the basic rules of waste disposal and segregation is still low in the country. There is a lack of awareness amongst households about the importance and need for separate disposal of biomedical waste. Sanitation workers are frightened while handling domestic wastes which are mixed with used gloves and face masks.

According to experts, the government needs to have a better implementation of waste management systems in the country and needs to come up with more stringent policies related to collection and disposal of such biomedical waste which possesses threats to both the health of the people and to the environment.

Impact on the Environment

These medical wastes like discarded face masks, tunics, caps, gowns and syringes need to be disposed of with proper precautions ensuring that they don’t become the reason for environmental degradation.

There is a lack of awareness amongst people about this issue, and this can expose the environment with detrimental effects because of the solid waste, or other biomedical waste being generated. We need to follow the CPCB rules and guidelines rigorously so that the biomedical waste treatment process can be done effectively without any damage to the environment.

The waste generated from COVID-19 is stored in double bags before it is transported to the treatment facility. The transportation system should be done with the help of separate designated vehicles which have a dual chamber and can operate at a temperature of 1050 degree Celsius.

Suggestions

❖ The waste must be decontaminated with alcohol-based sanitizers before we throw them or put them in garbage bags.

❖ Using reusable cloth masks, which can be washed and reused.

❖ The Sanitary Staff should be provided with Personal Protective Equipment’s (PPE’s) such as face masks, gloves, sanitizers, etc.

❖ Common Biomedical Waste Treatment and Disposal Facilities (CBWTFs) are being set up where the priority treatment and incrimination of biomedical waste can be done upon receipt.

❖ Apart from the Government, it is important for the community to act responsibly and sensibly when it comes to the disposal of household waste.

❖ The Regulated Medical waste, also known as “Red Bag Waste” must be handled in red bags.

❖ Items like Contaminated Gloves, Plastic Tubing, Blood contaminated items, and other pathological wastes, etc generated from the Hospitals, must be disposed of in the red bags.

Guidelines Released

▪ The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) released a set of guidelines related to the handling, treatment and proper disposal of waste which is generated during the treatment and during the quarantine period of COVID-19 patients.

o As per these guidelines, the isolation wards of Hospitals and other quarantine centres made by the government, need to have separate bins on a colour-coded basis system which will ensure segregation of different types of wastes, thus helping in proper disposal of such bio-medical waste.

o Hospitals need to have a separate bin, labelled as “COVID-19”, and all the biomedical waste generated from the isolation wards and treatment centres must be disposed of here. A record of such waste generated is also recommended to be prepared by the Hospital authorities.

o A separate sanitation worker staff may be appointed who would be the only one responsible for the disposal of such wastes.

o For Quarantine centres and camps, where potential COVID-19 patients are being quarantined, it was advised for such centres to use ‘yellow coloured bags’ containing the biomedical waste for disposal.

▪ Bio-medical Waste Management (BMWM) Rules, 2016

o Many hospitals are rigorously following these rules and guidelines to minimize the risk of spread of the contagious virus.

▪ Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016

o According to these rules of waste segregation in India, the waste generators are required to segregate the waste before handing it over to the concerned authorities. However, the adherence to these rules has been minimal, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conclusion

Thus, it is very critical to manage the waste generated from hospitals or households where COVID-19 patients are quarantined. Apart from this, we need to make sure that the waste generated doesn’t get disposed of at the common dumping grounds as it may result in environmental degradation and spread of the novel coronavirus. The same has been recommended by the World Resources Institute of India.

We need to make sure that there is the safe and proper handling of infectious, hazardous bio-medical waste. The virus gets transmitted through direct touch or if a person comes into contact with a contaminated surface and object. Only then, we will be able to limit the risk associated and faced by the sanitation workers and ensure the containment of COVID-19 virus.

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