The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike any other pandemic the world has ever witnessed, and no one knows for how long will it continue to exist. The escalating cases of COVID-19 infection have exerted immense pressure on the healthcare systems of the world, leading to a shortage of resources and increased deaths. India, being the second most populated country in the world, is currently the worst hit with its total number of COVID infections standing at 7 million (as of the date of the published article). While there are multiple reasons behind the surge in the cases, one of the major reasons that many of us fail to recognize is the mishandling of COVID bio-medical waste.
India generated 18,000 tons of COVID bio-medical waste in the last four months. Yes, you read that right. This data was released by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) of India. As per this data, 18,000 tons of COVID bio-medical waste came from the states and union territories of India. The waste is collected, treated, and disposed of by 198 common biomedical waste treatment facilities of the country. This COVID bio-medical waste includes face masks, gloves, tissues, shoe covers, PPE kits, items contaminated by body fluids like blood and saliva, cotton swabs, used syringes, plaster casts, used bandaids, needles, etc.
Although bio-medical waste must be treated at all times, the pressing need to handle it with care during the pandemic is all the more important to control the spread of infection. In India alone, around 70,000 healthcare workers have been infected, and we cannot rule out the mishandling of COVID bio-medical waste as a source of infection.
While the hospitals, COVID centers, and quarantine camps in India have been asked to follow certain guidelines by the government to treat COVID bio-medical waste, we as responsible citizens too must contribute towards taking important precautions.
So how can we as individuals, treat and dispose bio-medical waste?
The best way to treat such waste is to start managing it at the source of its generation. For any kind of COVID bio-medical waste like gloves and masks, make sure you decontaminate/disinfect them by either dipping it into disinfectant liquids or using a sanitizer spray. Most of the masks available in the market are for one-time use. However, cloth masks are also now becoming available. The cloth masks can be reused by regular washing with disinfectant liquids. While throwing the masks and gloves off, make sure you destroy/cut it and then throw it into the dustbin. The same goes for sharp bio-medical waste like needles, razors, blades, etc.
If you are out somewhere and using tissue papers to clean your hands and face, do not throw them in regular waste bins. This leads to the spread of germs and viruses thus spreading the infection. Instead, store it in a pouch/container until you get home.
At home, segregate your waste. Just like we keep the wet and dry garbage in separate bins, keep one more bin for bio-medical waste. As per the newest CPCB guidelines, hospitals and other healthcare centres are asked to throw away COVID bio-medical waste into a big yellow colored non-chlorinated double-layered bag. You too can follow this at home.
There are high possibilities that your residential society might not be having this kind of waste segregation practice in place. You must take the initiative and pitch the need for this to the concerned persons in authority. They can further contact the waste management bodies for the same. Remember, it all starts with you.
Along with this, you must also keep in mind certain dos and don’ts to reduce the unnecessary generation of such waste in the first place.
- Though the best way to stay away from COVID infection is to stay indoors and practise social distancing, we understand that stepping out of the house is unavoidable when you have the education to pursue or a bread to earn. So if you step out, it is absolutely okay to use a simple cloth mask and keep the other medical masks reserved for the frontline workers.
- Similarly, gloves must only be used by healthcare or sanitation workers and not by the common people.
- The use of PPE or Personal Protective Equipment kits too should be by those who come in close contact with the patients and/or their belongings, which are again the frontline workers. For common people, PPE kits don’t provide any extra protection.
- Sharing each other’s mask is the worst blunder you can commit
- Even when at home, make sure each of your family members has their own towels, napkins, and bottles just to reduce the chances of infection.
- Do not flush tissues and sanitary napkins into the toilet as, apart from clogging the drains, it also spreads infections.
- Avoid using local or non-authentic sanitizers as many times they can be ineffective. Make sure you use only alcohol-based liquids or sanitizers with more than 70% alcohol for sanitizing your hands. Try to use soap whenever possible.
Cases of rag pickers and beggars sifting through bio-medical wastes have surfaced in the past few months which needs to be an alarming call for all to act responsibly in these challenging times. It is this kind of mishandling of the COVID bio-medical waste that is causing the surge in the infection. The respective authorities must definitely be questioned for this carelessness, but they are not the only ones at fault. Citizens need to equally be aware and responsible for this.