New Delhi: While on one hand, the world is scrambling to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic which has claimed over 3.9 lakh deaths worldwide, now, on the other hand, there are also threats of the reversing of gains made by anti-single-use plastic initiatives and experts are projecting even further increase of plastic waste due to the coronavirus. Expressing concerns over the rising plastic waste and the pandemic hampering efforts towards fighting the issue, experts say that on the occasion of World Environment Day, people should rethink their reliance on single-use plastic including single-use masks and gloves.
According to Priti Mahesh, Chief Programme Coordinator at Toxics Link, a group of environmental activists working for environmental justice and freedom from toxins,
COVID-19 will be part of our lives for the time to come, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) is estimating, even with the development of the vaccine. In this scenario, it is obvious that states will open up and as the lockdown rules ease, demand for all kinds of personal protective gears like masks, gloves, goggles, Hazmat suits and others by the individuals is only going to increase. Along with this will grow the need for single-use plastic bags to take to the stores for buying essentials which can be discarded later.
She further added that a surge in the domestic dry waste and hazardous waste generation has been observed in the past 2-3 months. She said,
There is a lack of data on the amount of domestic hazardous waste generation but this gap should be filled soon. This is because considering the plastic pollution crisis we are still battling, and the lessons we are learning from this pandemic about the need to work with nature instead of against it, efforts need to be made in developing plastic-free masks and gloves alternative as soon as possible.
Swati Singh Sambyal, a municipal solid waste expert, based in New Delhi highlighted the need of raising awareness on the safe disposal of PPE (Personal Protective Equipments). She said,
There has been an increase in hazardous waste and dry waste components of domestic waste. People are using single-use disposable masks and gloves in large numbers. While there is a lot of messaging on using masks while stepping out, making masks at home but there is still a lot to be done in building awareness on proper disposal of single use masks so that these don’t end up as litter on streets, in dumpsites or contaminate water bodies. Also, the COVID19 times have demolished the little progresses that cities and states had made on single use plastics and in switching to sustainable options. Usage of single use plastic/packaging items have accelerated and disposable PPEs is the new addition to the single use plastic stream..
COVID-19 Pandemic Has Highlighted Gaps In Waste Management In The Country: Experts
According to the Bio-Medical Waste (BMW) Management Rules 2016, medical waste is segregated with five different collection bags to avoid collision with other corporation solid waste. The new regulations framed during the pandemic insist on carrying the garbage in two safe containers to prevent leakage when handling the additional waste. Under the guidelines, The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has made it mandatory to put “COVID-19 Waste” label on all biomedical waste generated during the treatment of the infection. However, these rules are majorly targeting hospitals, isolation wards, quarantine centres and other medical centres. Experts seek norms and better waste management system for the disposal of COVID-19 medical waste at the household level.
Ms. Sambyal highlighted that Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 clearly states that the waste should be segregated into three bins for wet, dry and hazardous waste. However, even before COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, there was no waste segregation happening into the third component, she said. She added,
If at all some cities that practice segregation, it is majorly in two categories- dry and wet waste. The third bin is missing from almost the entire country. So first and foremost, the third bin component needs to be brought into the waste management system in cities. It requires a lot of awareness building. It is important that the masks and gloves used and thrown by the household on a daily basis does not get mixed with domestic dry waste. The waste generated because of COVID-19 includes gloves, masks, medicine wrappers, tissues papers, wipes, cotton swabs, among others. These should be separates, sorted, wrapped up in some newspaper, put in a bag, labelled and then given to the collector.
She further said that there is no clear inventorisation on domestic hazardous waste. As per an estimate, this fraction is almost 1 per cent of the total municipal solid waste collected by the civic body.
Ms. Mahesh asserted that at many places, the medical waste is getting mixed with household dry waste and this poses an extreme threat to sanitation workers as they can get in contact with contaminated medical waste.
According to Shakuntala Shrivastava, a senior official at New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), bio-hazardous waste is being managed efficiently in the area and is being treated at a Common Bio-Medical Waste Treatment (CBMWT) facility. She added,
Bio-hazardous waste generated at homes, hospitals and quarantine centres need to be segregated at source and are being collected separately.
In terms of managing its hazardous waste, Panchgani, a small city in Maharashtra is a model city. Laxmi Karhadakar, President, Panchgani Hill Station Municipal Corporation shared that each household has been asked to segregate and store masks and gloves separately which is collected by the civic body and is sent to a CBMWT in the nearby town Satara. She added that the municipal council has imposed a fine of Rs. 500 on failing to segregate the waste before handing it over to the waste collector.
The United Nations has called on countries to treat waste management as “urgent and essential” to combat Covid-19 and prevent knock-on effects on public health and the environment. India generates about 550.9 tonnes of biomedical waste every day as per the data published in ‘Unearthing the Growth Curve and Necessities of Bio-Medical Waste Management in India, 2018’. Experts assert that post-pandemic, the quantity will increase exponentially.
Shun Surgical Masks, Take #PlasticUpvaas
Country’s first Plogger Ripu Daman Bevli reminds that single-use plastic has taken over the lives of people and ruining the planet. He said,
Seeping into the groundwater from landfills, or destroying the marine ecosystem, single-use also enters the food chain and comes back to impact our health. All this while polluting the environment. The need to fight is extremely urgent! And it’s not just single-use plastic, but single-use anything which creates waste is bad for us and the environment.
By starting an online movement, #PlasticUpvaas, Mr. Bevli is urging people to mark this World Environment Day by starting giving up single-use plastic items. He says,
Start with just one item, like surgical masks and switch to reusable cloth masks. Gradually move on to shunning single-use plastic bottles, polythene bags, straws, tissue papers or anything similar.
He further added that scientists have estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fishes but considering the huge spurt in plastic and single-use consumption in the form of PPEs, masks, gloves, protective body bags, this may happen earlier.
About World Environment Day 2020
Every year on June 5, the world marks a day for nature which is known as the World Environment Day. It was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972 on the first day of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Two years later, in 1974 the first world environment day was celebrated. The theme for World Environment Day is biodiversity- a call to action to stop the loss of specials and degradation of the natural world, both of which are accelerating.
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