From hospitals and at homes too, wherever they work, doctors and nurses worldwide are battling what’s described as the invisible enemy. They are using personal protective equipment including medical masks, gowns, gloves, and eye protection, some designed for single-use and immediate disposal. More cases mean more discarded gear, more medical supplies used and that means medical waste on a scale never seen before.
What is medical waste?
Medical waste consists of all the wastes which are produced at the health centers which include hospitals, blood banks, research laboratories, etc. Medical waste is defined as any solid and/or liquid waste including its container and any intermediate product, which is generated during the diagnosis, treatment or immunization of human beings or animals.
The Covid-19 presented a huge challenge before the country’s collective measures of waste management where we have to currently deal with the un-estimated amount of biomedical waste exclusively from dedicated Covid hospitals, quarantine centers and home quarantine facilities in every city, district, state, region in the country.
Medical waste management in India before the pandemic:
Medical waste management in India is based on the concept of reduce, reuse and recycle. Its primary aim of the management is reducing the waste generated as much as possible and using the 3Rs for management of the same. The management of biomedical waste is intensified in India by the scavengers who sort out open, unprotected wastes with no gloves, masks, or shoes for recycling, and second, reuse of syringe without appropriate sterilization. Finally, in 2016 the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate change amended the biomedical management rules.
Getting rid of this waste now is not easy; the hazardous waste is taking a lot of time to be processed and managed by the waste companies and they are facing increased demands over dealing with contaminated waste. Some countries are suspending or reducing trash and recycling services causing fears of unmanageable waste and also a further spread of the virus. In the UK, non-hazardous personal protective equipment, the PPEs can be burned in the local council incinerators So, the countries like Germany and the United Kingdom which have a high level of recycling are doing quite well, but on the other hand, there are others like Italy, they either dump their waste into landfills or export them to third countries outside Europe and also, those countries are having some real difficulties with the pandemic. Figures from China showed that when the pandemic was at its peak in February, 159,000 tons of medical waste was disposed of in six weeks since late January. 240 tons of that was from Wuhan alone and everyday China had to construct a medical waste plant to cope with.
As far as India is concerned, if we try to find on the internet regarding the medical waste problems, all we find everywhere is the guidelines and facilities laid down by the government in response to the management of this waste instead of the actual data of how much of these guidelines are really implemented or whether they are being monitored properly or not. There is no talk anywhere about the environmental hazards this waste has caused and continues to cause as the pandemic continues. There is no specification regarding the environmental threat by either the general, infectious, contaminated, hazardous, or radioactive medical wastes, or no specification of whether they are recyclable or not. It is difficult to paint a picture of the future environmental threats at this time with all of this going on, yet it does not eliminate the fact of its guaranteed existence and harms, it is going to be there and it is going to cause much more danger later than ever imagined. Henceforth, we have to keep in mind of this foreseen yet ignored threat along with battling with the coronavirus.