- Maharashtra accounts for over 17% of India’s COVID-19 bio-medical waste
- Experts recommend waste segregation as a key to biomedical waste management
- Ms Sambyal suggests leveraging technology to track bio-medical waste
New Delhi: The outbreak of Novel Coronavirus has not only exposed the poor healthcare infrastructure and lack of preparedness to battle a pandemic but also loopholes in the waste management process in the country. According to a report filed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in the National Green Tribunal in July, India generates about 101 Metric Tonnes per day (MT/day) of COVID-19 related bio-medical waste. This quantity is in addition to the regular bio-medical waste generation of about 609 MT per day. The report clearly states that the available capacity for incineration of COVID-19 biomedical waste in the country is about 840 MT against the total generation of about 710 MT per day.
Is Incineration The Only Way To Treat Bio-medical Waste?
As per the Guidelines for Quarantine Facility COVID-19 issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, waste is to be bifurcated in four streams:
1. Eye protection goggles, recyclable materials like pens, plastic water bottles and bed sheets are to be kept in red bins. The collected waste is to be disinfected through autoclave or microwave or hydroclave and sent for recycling.
2. Sharp waste including metals is to be discarded in white bins. For the treatment, sterilisation is to be followed by shredding or containers mutilation or encapsulation.
3. Glassware, tube light, CFL bulbs, LED used in quarantine facility are to be kept separately in a cardboard box marked blue. The waste is to be disinfected and sent for recycling.
4. Used personal protective equipment (PPE), gloves, shoe covers, head covers, disposable bed sheets, and PPE with spill is to be discarded in a yellow bin and incinerated or buried in deep pits.
While talking to NDTV, Sourabh Manuja, Fellow, Centre for Waste Management, Environment & Waste Management Division at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), explained the pros and cons of incineration. He said,
Incineration has an advantage that it results in converting infectious waste into biologically sterile products. The ashes produced are roughly 5-10 per cent in volumes and can be managed appropriately as by-products/aggregates if toxins or hazardous materials are below the threshold limits. The disadvantages of incineration are associated with high treatment costs and resulting air pollution in forms of Black carbon, dioxins and others, only if they are not properly handled.
Dr Lata Ghanshamnani, Ophthalmologist and co-founder of NGO RNisarg Foundation believes that incineration is not the only way to treat bio-medical waste. There are many greener options available like bio-methanisation – an anaerobic digestion process to convert biodegradable waste into electricity.
India’s Top Bio-medical Waste Generators
Maharashtra Accounts For Over 17 Per Cent Of India’s COVID-19 Bio-medical Waste
Maharashtra, a state that is leading COVID-19 tally in India is also the biggest COVID-19 related bio-medical waste generator. The report which has been compiled on the basis of the data received from all states as on May 31 reveals that Maharashtra generates 17.494 TPD of COVID-19 bio-medical waste. Maharashtra is followed by Gujarat (11.693 TPD) and Delhi (11.114 TPD).
Talking about the bio-medical waste generation and management in Maharashtra, Dr Lata Ghanshamnani said,
In terms of bio-medical waste management prior to COVID times, the state had been crippling with waste management issues. But compared to other states of the country, it seems to be performing better. Having said that, I feel we have a long way to go since the foundation of waste management that is education and awareness on waste segregation and minimisation is lacking.
The only silver lining, if there is any is that Maharashtra has 29 Common Biomedical Waste Treatment Facility (CBWTF). As per CPCB, Maharashtra has adequate existing treatment facility and has also made stand-by arrangement with TSDFs (Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facilities) in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur.
Explaining Maharashtra’s waste management strategy and what other states can learn from it Mr Manuja said,
Interlinking with TSDF facilities indicate that the state is making all possible linkages to avoid the spread of disease through waste routes. However, it should be ensured that all waste are segregated and managed appropriately. Appropriate monitoring through state pollution control board as well as other third party agencies should also be conducted to verify the claims and plug in gaps if any. States experiencing or expecting similar issues can also place such contracts with TSDFs/incineration facilities and ensure management of generated BMW.
Delhi Needs To Ensure Proper Segregation, Says CPCB
National capital Delhi accounts for 11 per cent of India’s daily COVID-19 bio-medical waste generation. Delhi has only two incinerators and 70 per cent of their capacity is already utilised. CPCB has recommended Delhi to ensure waste segregation. Talking about the same, Swati Sambyal, a Delhi-based waste management expert said,
We have the solid waste management by-laws in place since 2017 as per which, households have to segregate waste into wet, dry and domestic hazardous waste. Also, there are fines and penalties for non-segregation. A sustainable action plan for waste management for Delhi exists on paper, but it’s about time we implement it on the ground; that is the only way out. To strengthen source segregation, set up systems to support segregation, opt for decentralised action and constantly work on behaviour change by involving civic society institutions, volunteers, resident welfare associations (RWAs) of Delhi. Behavior change is the real game-changer.
According to CPCB, the segregation of waste will increase disposal capacity of incinerators. The reason being, currently, the lack of waste segregation at source is leading to mixed waste making its way to incinerators. Elaborating on the same, Mr Manuja said,
The waste quantities which are to be incinerated at BMW facilities are only the once which are infectious and non-recyclable. As bio-medical waste gets segregated, the loads on incineration facilities get reduced as more waste gets diverted to disinfection and recycling routes. It will not increase the capacity of incinerators, but allow the bio-medical waste treatment facilities to handle more waste.
For states like Delhi with 70 per cent or more capacity utilisation of incinerators, CPCB recommends considering use of deep-burial pits as a last option. Ms Sambyal echoes the same and said,
Only if incineration is not available, this remains a safe option to reduce any risk of infection.
Detailing the advantages and disadvantages associated with deep-burial of bio-medical waste, Mr Manuja said,
Deep burials can be practiced at any isolated area, and do not allow contamination to travel to surface. However, these methods are expensive and require adequate monitoring post closure of site. In case there is any leakage of contaminant to environment, transferring materials to another location is again a herculean task and an expensive affair.
How Can India Tide Over The Crisis Of Bio-Medical Waste Even After The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Over?
According to Dr Lata Ghanshamnani, India needs to take up challenges in bio-medical management on a war footing. She believes that COVID-19 did not break the system instead it only helped in revealing a broken system. Giving out tips on how India can reduce its COVID specific bio-medical generation, Dr Lata Ghanshamnani suggested three crucial steps – define COVID waste; identify different types of waste generators; launch a large scale campaign for education and awareness related to PPE usage for both healthcare and non-healthcare sectors.
In addition to this, Mr Manuja suggests following the first 2Rs that are reduce and reuse. While waste segregation can reduce the burden on environment, use of reusable masks and gloves by general public who are not in quarantine or isolation can help further.
Sharing some more ways to reduce bio-medical waste generation and improve treatment process, Mr Manuja said,
The first step should be on spreading awareness among concerned stakeholders on waste segregation and management. As a second step, augmenting the capacities of BMW treatment units in our country with appropriate monitoring strategies and performance based contracts can help to tide over the crisis. Further, there is a need to have appropriate public private partnership models that allow innovations and widespread networks for linking health care facilities to BMW treatment units.
Dr Lata Ghanshamnani also recommends taking inputs from all the stakeholders including doctors, innovators and medical items and equipment manufacturers. She said,
As a doctor I can openly say that though we are the main waste generators, we still have very few doctors who understand the issue of waste generated by them. Also, every item used for patient treatment should go through a LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) report. This will help in proper segregation and thereby help in sending the waste generated to correct end destination. We also need to implement Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR), a policy approach under which producers are given a significant responsibility for the collection and treatment of post-consumer products. Lastly, encourage start-ups and institutions to come UP with better recycling and waste management solutions.
While signing off, Ms Sambyal again stressed on waste segregation quoting the findings of the CPCB report that highlighted improper segregation of waste from COVID-19 isolation wards, quarantine centres. She said,
Address infrastructure gaps and work on how technology can be leveraged to track bio-medical waste. We also need to map and track effective best management practices of bio-medical waste management within the country and try to replicate them. These learnings from various corners of the country shall help in strengthening bio-medical management systems.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.
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