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We only understand the importance of waste collection services when we miss them and they are vital elements that uphold the quality and hygiene of the city. Their need is more felt at the time of crisis, especially when the situation demands more hygiene and sanitation. The global COVID-19 pandemic is generating tons of medical waste; therefore, experts acknowledge waste collection workers as the second most important human shield against the coronavirus, after the health workers. Since, waste collection workers are often exposed to several health risks, including infections, they are vulnerable parts of the population. They need to be protected, and the government should recognize the critical role they play.

As of Sunday, India has officially crosssed1000 COVID-19 cases, and this number seems to increase further. During the treatment of COVID-19 patient, different types of waste gets generated, some of which needs special attention. The indiscriminate disposal of various items can be a potential source of infection of COVID-19.

Rigorous monitoring is required to ensure such waste does not end up infecting others. Also, we need to ensure that people who are at home are disposing of their waste correctly; this is to make ensure that they do not end up passing it to neighbours and the waste collectors. The waste generated during this global pandemic at isolation wards, quarantine facilities and homes where people are self-isolating, are mostly hazardous and biomedical. Therefore, it needs special attention.

As per the existing biomedical waste management rule, 2016, bio-medical waste is generated during the diagnosis, treatment or immunization of human beings or animals or in research activities pertaining thereto or in the production or testing of biological. It includes wastes like human anatomical waste, animal waste, microbiology & biotechnology waste, waste sharps, discarded medicines & cytotoxic drugs, soiled waste, solid waste, liquid waste, incineration ash, chemical wastes. These wastes are potentially hazardous because of the potentially infectious as it may pose a severe threat to human health if its management is indiscriminate and unscientific.

Recently, CPCB has issued updated guidelines for biomedical waste management. The updated guidelines are contingency plans that will make sure that no other health risks are added on top of the pandemics. The instructions are in addition to the rules regarding biomedical waste management, 2016. These guidelines though liable to be updated if necessary, are based on current knowledge of COVID-19 and existing practices in the management of infectious waste generated in hospitals while treating viral and other contagious diseases.

Waste management for COVID-19 isolation wards:

1.     The bulk of waste is expected from isolation waste where COVID-19 patient is kept. Keeping this in mind, as a safety measure, the latest guideline by CPCB stressed that double-layered bags (2 bags) should be used for the collection of waste from COVID-19 isolation wards to ensure zero leakage. 

2.     Prior to handing over to Common Bio-medical Waste Treatment Facility (CBWTF), collect and store biomedical waste separately. Ensure that the collection bin is labelled as COVID-19 and should be stored independently in a temporary storage room before handing over to the authorized staff of the CBWTF. There should be a separate record of waste generated from COVID-19 isolation wards. The COVID-19 labelled waste can be directly lifted from ward into CBWTF collection van; however, the waste collection bags should be marked as ‘COVID-19 waste’. The labelling is to ensure the priority treatment and disposal immediately upon receipt at CBWTF.

3.     While the state should immediately report the operation of COVID-19 ward to SPCBs, former should ensure that the isolation wards are using dedicated trolleys and collection bins labelled as ‘COVID-19 waste’. Likewise, these trolleys should be disinfected with 1% sodium hypochlorite solution.

4.     The state should immediately depute sanitation workers separately for biomedical waste management and general solid waste management so that the waste can be collected and transferred timely to the temporary waste storage facility.

5.     All the points listed above should be followed at the sample collection centres and laboratories for COVID-19 suspected patients.

Waste management for COVID-19 quarantine camps/homecare facilities

As compared to isolation wards, less quantity of waste is expected from these facilities; however, the following points need to be followed to ensure safe handling and disposal of waste.

1.     Apart from biomedical waste if any should be handled as per solid waste management rule 2016. Biomedical waste should be collected in yellow coloured bags and bins.

2.     Quarantine camps/homecare facilities should inform CBWTF operators as and when the waste is generated so that the CBWTF ensured timely collection and disposal at their treatment facility.

3.     The urban local bodies (ULBs) should engage CBWTF to pick up any biomedical waste from homecare for suspected patients, and this can be directly from home or authorized/identified collection points.

What is the role of the state pollution control board (SPCB)/PCCs and CBWTFs?

SPCBs should ensure that they have a record of COVID-19 treatment wards/quarantine centres/quarantine homes in the state. Furthermore, they should ensure proper collection and disposal of biomedical waste as per biomedical waste management rule, 2016 and additional guidance issued by CPCB with respect to COVID-19 pandemic.

SPCB should allow CBWTFs to operate for extra hours as per requirement. Further, they should not insist on the authorization of quarantine camps as such facility does not qualify as health facilities. However, it may allow CBWTFs to collect biomedical waste as and when required.

CBWTFs should report the receipt of COVID-19 waste. They should ensure regular sanitization of workers involved in handling and collection of COVID-19 waste. The workers involved in the collection, transfer and treatment of COVID-19 waste should be provided with adequate PPEs including layers mask, splash-proof aprons/gowns, nitrile gloves, gumboots and safety goggles.  The dedicated vehicle used for the collection of COVID-19 waste should be labelled as such. It should be sanitized with sodium hypochlorite after every trip. CBWTFs should ensure that COVID-19 waste is disposed-off immediately upon receipt at the facility while maintaining its record.

The author is Hari Bhakta Sharma, a PhD scholar in Civil and Environmental Engineering at IIT Kharagpur.

Views/Opinions expressed in the article or write up is purely of the author or writer and not of the Sikkim Chronicle. For any queries or contradictions, the author can be contacted in his/her email id.

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