COVID-19 waste management to reduce impact of pandemic on global environment: UNEP

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New Delhi (NVI): With the outbreak of coronavirus, hospitals, healthcare facilities and individuals are producing more waste than usual, including masks, gloves, gowns and other protective equipment that could be infected with the virus.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has outlined a series of guidelines on how to safely manage the increase of waste produced in response to the crisis and to control releases of harmful chemicals in the atmosphere, land and water.

Reportedly, there is also a large increase in the amount of single use plastics being produced.

When not managed soundly, infected medical waste could be subject to uncontrolled dumping, leading to public health risks, and to open burning or uncontrolled incineration, leading to the release of toxins in the environment and to secondary transmission of diseases to humans. Other wastes can reach water sources and add to river and marine pollution.

UNEP in collaboration with various governments, WHO, UNDP and NGO’s has been working to mitigate the adverse effects on global environment from the increase of waste produced in response to the crisis.

Few of the responses laid down by UNEP are:

– Inventory:
Governments produce an assessment of their national waste management capacity to optimize their utilization and adopt stop-gap solutions during COVID-19. The action will prevent both the spread of contamination and the increase in litter reaching the marine environment.

– 3S methodology:
Sorting, Segregation and Storage. COVID-19 waste should be separated from general medical waste volumes at point of generation. Waste should then be stored to assess waste volumes and allow the development of an appropriate response.

– Air quality and transport:
Air quality has an impact on human and environment health. Countries in a post COVID-19 recovery phase could manage the levels of air pollution not only with waste management solutions and emission control, but also with options for electrical mobility and transport.

– Household and medical waste management strategies:
COVID-19 will increase the consumption of personal care and single-use products, especially in countries with overwhelmed or few healthcare facilities. Countries will require more robust systems for waste segregation, collection and management, and individuals will need guidance on how to safely dispose off the used medical equipment.