- In September, India generated 5490 tonnes of COVID-19 bio-medical waste
- Gujarat leads the tally with 622.89 tonnes of COVID-19 bio-medical waste
- Experts believe segregation can help reduce the quantity of waste generated
New Delhi: The COVID-19 pandemic has burdened India’s already stressed waste management system. According to the data shared by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India generated over 18,000 tonnes of COVID-19 related bio-medical waste between June and September. This includes personal protective equipment (PPE), gloves, face masks, head cover, plastic coverall, hazmet suit, syringes among other gears and medical equipment used by both healthcare providers and patients. The amount of COVID-19 related bio-medical waste has been on the rise. In June, India generated 3,025.41 tonnes of COVID-19 related bio-medical waste; in July the number rose to 4,253.46 tonnes and further spiked to 5,238.45 tonnes in August and 5,490 tonnes in September.
On an average, India generated about 183 tonnes of COVID-19 related bio-medical waste per day in September. Back in June, the figure stood at 101 tonnes per day. This quantity is in addition to the regular bio-medical waste generation of about 609 MT per day (as of June, 2020). According to Sourabh Manuja, Fellow, Centre for Waste Management, Environment & Waste Management Division at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the rise in waste generation is directly related to the number of cases.
Dr Lata Ghanshamnani, Ophthalmologist and co-founder of NGO RNisarg Foundation, is of the opinion that now routine non-COVID healthcare work has increased which has led to an increase in bio-medical waste and this was expected. She added,
People are no longer waiting for the COVID-19 pandemic to go and postponing their regular healthcare treatments. They are undergoing treatments as routine. Hence, bio-medical waste is being generated from non-COVID hospitals and nursing homes as well.
In September, Gujarat generated 622.89 tonnes of COVID-19 bio-medical waste, followed by Tamil Nadu (543.78 tonnes) and Maharashtra (524.82 tonnes).
CPCB data states that about 198 Common Bio-medical Waste Treatment Facilities (CBWTFs) are involved in the treatment and disposal of COVID-19 bio-medical waste across the country.
NDTV spoke to industry experts to know how India can reduce its COVID specific bio-medical waste generation. Dr 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. Elaborating on the same, Dr Ghanshamnani said,
COVID waste is generated in COVID hospitals, dedicated COVID care centre, home quarantine, and other non-healthcare establishment like salons, hotels, and home. COVID-19 related waste generated at non- healthcare establishments can be potentially contaminated but is currently being discarded as dry waste as per the CPCB guidelines. Therefore, we need to identify waste generators.
Further talking about a need for large scale campaign for education and awareness related to PPE usage for both healthcare and non-healthcare sectors, Dr Ghanshamnani said,
Tailor made suggestions should be made for healthcare sector based on the hierarchy of ‘Rethink, Refuse, Reduce and Recycle’. For example, encourage appropriate use of PPE based on exposure levels of the health care worker; encourage reusable alternatives without compromising the safety; encourage PPE materials that have easily available recycling options. For non-healthcare sector, in addition to the aforementioned points, we need to educate and make people aware about the importance of hand hygiene and social distancing over the unnecessary use of PPE especially the hazmet suits.
Mr Manuja also emphasised on the 2Rs’ of waste management hierarchy – reduce and reuse. He added,
If waste gets properly segregated at source and managed appropriately the burdens on the environment can be reduced, following guidelines which allow many waste streams to be recycled after processing (disinfection). Appropriate training and capacity building on segregation of waste at source will certainly help reduce bio-medical waste that is to be incinerated. There is a need to spread larger awareness among waste generators and managers. For the general public, who are not quarantined, reusable masks, gloves and other PPEs can help reduce waste burden.
Mr Manuja also specified that whatever we cannot reduce and has to be incinerated should be of lightest feasible weight, to reduce burdens for bio-medical waste management facilities.
Swati Sambyal, a Delhi-based waste management expert resonated with Mr Manuja on the point of waste segregation at source. She asserted that,
The pandemic has definitely increased the quantities of waste, but one major factor that has been attributed to increased levels of bio-medical waste generation is non-segregation. Obviously, this also increases the quantum of waste generated. This is creating a problem, but awareness is an issue here.
As per the provisions under Bio-medical Waste Management Rules, 2016, Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 and CPCB’s COVID-19 guidelines, segregation of wastes is essential for effective management of wastes. The CPCB has reported improper segregation of waste from COVID-19 isolation wards, quarantine centres and quarantine homes.
Mixing of general solid waste with biomedical waste would result in additional load on CBWTF incinerators, which are not designed for domestic solid waste, CPCB had stated in its report.
Talking about the ways to deal with non-segregation of waste, Dr Ghanshamnani said education and awareness in the community are two keys here. To this, Mr Manuja added,
People need to understand what goes in their yellow bins/bags and general waste. Recyclables which can be isolated for up to 3-5 days after quarantine is over can be stored and not rejected as bio-medical waste. This will help reduce waste burdens of bio-medical waste to be handled via municipalities.
As per the CPCB guidelines, masks and gloves used by people other than COVID-19 patients, whether infected or not, should be cut and kept in paper bags for a minimum of 72 hours before discarding it as dry general solid waste. The same rule applies for discarding PPEs (Personal Protective Equipments) by the general public at commercial establishments, shopping malls, institutions, and offices.
People in home quarantine should segregate their COVID-19 related waste that includes masks, tissues, cotton swabs and other waste into a yellow bag so that it can go for incineration.
Similarly, hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare establishments need to segregate the waste into four streams as per the Guidelines for Quarantine Facility COVID-19 issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
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.
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.