New Delhi: With the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing that has remained a constant challenge for India is the management of bio-medical waste and that’s what the recently released data by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) highlights. As per the data, India generated around 33,000 tonnes of COVID-19 biomedical waste in the last seven months. The COVID-19 biomedical waste includes PPE (Personal Protective Equipments) kits, masks, shoe covers, gloves, human tissues, items contaminated with blood, body fluids like dressings, plaster casts, cotton swabs, beddings contaminated with blood or body fluid, blood bags, needles, syringes etc. If not managed scientifically, the bio-medical waste can cause a great harm not only to the environment but also to human health. In the time of coronavirus, the proper handling and treatment of these waste have become all the more important, owing to the quick transmission of the novel coronavirus through touch and surfaces.
According to CPCB, daily bio-medical waste generation in India has gone up by 25 per cent in 2020 due to COVID-19. Before COVID-19 pandemic, regular bio-medical waste generation in India was at 610 MT per day, but with COVID-19 being in picture, the waste has gone upto 765.5 MT per day.
The CPCB data further highlighted that Maharashtra has been the biggest contributor to India’s overall bio-medical waste as it generated 5,367 tonnes of COVID-19 waste in seven months since June, followed by Kerala (3,300 tonnes), Gujarat (3,086 tonnes), Tamil Nadu (2,806 tonnes), Uttar Pradesh (2,502 tonnes), Delhi (2,471 tonnes), West Bengal (2,095 tonnes) and Karnataka (2,026 tonnes). Whereas, the month of October has been tagged as a month that generated maximum amount of COVID-19 waste in last seven months – over 5,500 tonnes.
The CPCB had in March last year issued specific guidelines for handling, treatment and disposal of such waste at healthcare facilities, quarantine centres, homes, sample collection centers, laboratories, pollution control boards, urban local bodies and common biomedical waste treatment facilities (CBWTFs). Guidelines for disposal of COVID-19 waste also applies to COVID-19 patients quarantining at home. Used masks, gloves, tissues, swabs contaminated with blood or body fluids of COVID-19 patients, including used syringes, medicines, are to be treated as bio-medical waste and collected in a yellow bag provided by the urban local body (ULB). Masks and gloves used by persons other than COVID-19 patients should be cut and kept in paper bags for a minimum of 72 hours prior to disposal.
In May, the top pollution body had developed the ”COVID19BWM” mobile application to monitor coronavirus-related biomedical waste and to compile the data through electronic manifest system. This application tracks COVID-19 waste at the time of generation, collection and disposal. In July last year, the Supreme Court made it mandatory for all urban local bodies and state pollution control boards to use the mobile application for tracking biomedical waste daily in a bid to ensure that the waste is collected, transported and sent to the registered CBWTFs.
Talking to NDTV about the waste management challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Swati Sambyal, a Delhi-based waste management expert said,
Segregation has been a major concern in India and lack of systems that support segregation is another.
Ms Sambyal said that the awareness regarding waste management in India at the household level is extremely poor. She adds that though it has been almost a year since the outbreak of COVID-19 related waste, we still see masks, gloves and even PPE suits carelessly disposed off by the road sides. Many of us also don’t know about the hazards associated with improper management of biomedical waste. She further added,
People have been giving a lot of their mixed household waste in the designated yellow bag meant for COVID-19 waste. Cities that have heavily centralised waste management systems have more challenges over cities with decentralised resource management systems. There are still cities in India that has not implemented the third bin that is meant for hazardous waste. The effective segregated collection of municipal solid waste and bio-medical waste at the household level is of utmost importance and that has not taken place majorly.
On the other hand, Sourabh Manuja, Fellow, Centre for Waste Management, Environment & Waste Management Division at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), said,
Our cities need appropriate training and capacity building along with the infrastructure to manage the bio-medical waste they generate, including domestic hazardous waste.
Both Ms Sambyal and Mr Manuja further said that India has a robust policy for bio-medical waste management but its implementation has always been a challenging aspect. Stressing the way ahead for India, Mr Manuja added,
State and local governments will have to work cohesively with centre to manage bio-medical waste generated (along with a strong political will). For policies to be implemented by urban local bodies, it requires clear local bye laws, with penal mechanism; prior training and capacity building of its employees; involvement of stakeholders while formulating and implementing policies at the city level.
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.