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Are we closer to Garbage Pandemic because of our failed waste management system?

Covid-19 was not a pleasant surprise for all people around the world in 2020. It snatched away lives, happiness, money, and, most importantly, the freedom that everyone took for granted. Since March 2020, every person in our country is battling their hardships that the pandemic has thrown. But many other aspects are also being affected due to this virus. 

Apart from testing our already weak healthcare infrastructure, it is infecting another “vulnerable sector”- the Waste management system. It’s a no-brainer that our country already struggles in this department as well. 

Are we closer to Garbage Pandemic because of our failed waste management system

A Glimpse into Urban India’s Solid Waste Management:

A failed waste management system can hinder the foundation of the cities functionality. Unfortunately, in India, we already lack behind in this sector. One of the main reasons for the failed management systems is not taking into account the volcano of urbanization that we are dealing with. Many issues come from the outcome of Urbanisation, like Solid waste management in urban areas:

  • Urban India produces 62 million tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) each year.
  • About 43 million tonnes (70%) are collected, and 11.9 million tonnes (20%) are treated. 
  • About 31 million tonnes (50%) are dumped in landfill sites.

We know, waste management and the health of people have tangled together presently. And this time, the priority of people’s immunity is at its peak. The proper handling and treatment of this waste have become more crucial as there is a quick transmission of the coronavirus through touch or surfaces. The Covid 19 waste must be disposed of properly without accumulating in landfills.   

Also Read: What Is Solid Waste Management?

Importance of Solid Waste management

Modern Techniques of Solid Waste Management in India

What is COVID-19 biomedical waste?

Biomedical waste (BMW) is different from general municipal waste. It can trigger various health hazards if not treated properly. There are guidelines from the ministry of environment, forest & climate change for handling and treating Biomedical waste. All of them are prescribed in BMW management rules 2016, and the amendment rules 2018. Although, there are many complications in the biomedical waste management system because of a lack of resources. 

Currently, India is the second worst-hit nation by the coronavirus disease 2019 after the United States of America (20 April 2021). Hence there will be a massive amount of Covid-19 medical waste that we cannot avoid. 

The COVID-19 biomedical waste includes:

  • PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) 
  • 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. 

The Alarming Rise of Biomedical Waste:

Covid’s situation is getting worse day by day. So the more biomedical waste is being generated throughout since March 2020. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data, India generated around 33,000 tonnes of COVID-19 biomedical waste from June 2020 to December 2020. It is also pointed out If not managed scientifically, bio-medical waste can cause great harm not only to the environment but also to human health.

Important points in Central Pollution Control Board Report:

  • Daily bio-medical waste generation in India went up by 25 percent in 2020 due to COVID-19.
  • Pre Covid regular bio-medical waste generation in India was at 610 MT per day, but with COVID-19, the waste collection has shoot upto 765.5 MT per day.
  • According to the data, the state which has generated the most biomedical waste is Maharashtra. The below table shows the recorded waste from June 2020 to December 2020 of different states in India. 
Maharashtra Kerala Gujarat Tamil Nadu Uttar Pradesh Delhi West Bengal  Karnataka
5,367 tonnes 3,300 tonnes 3,086 tonnes 2,806 tonnes 2,502 tonnes 2,471 tonnes 2,095 tonnes 2,026 tonnes

The CPCB Guidelines:

The Central Pollution Control Board is a statutory organization under the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change. It was established in 1974 under the Water Act 1974. In March 2020, the organization issued specific guidelines for handling, treating, and disposing of such waste at healthcare facilities, quarantine centers, homes, sample collection centers, laboratories, pollution control boards, urban local bodies, and common biomedical waste treatment facilities. 

  • As per the rules, used masks, gloves, tissues, swabs contaminated with blood or body fluids of virus-infected patients, including used syringes, medicines, are to be treated as bio-medical waste. It should be collected in a yellow bag provided by the urban local body (ULB). 
  • These guidelines for disposal also apply to Covid-19 patients treating themselves at home in isolation. 
  • 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 before disposal.

Also Read: COVID – 19 Waste Management

The development of Waste App:

In May 2020, the CPCB developed the ”COVID19BWM” mobile application to monitor coronavirus-related biomedical waste. After collecting data, they compile the data through an electronic system. It tracks COVID-19 waste at the time of generation, collection, and disposal. In July 2020, the Supreme Court made it mandatory for all urban local bodies and state pollution control boards to use the mobile app for tracking biomedical waste daily. Because of this, It ensured that the waste was collected, transported, and sent to the registered common biomedical waste treatment facilities throughout the cities.
During pre covid times, biomedical waste happens to be produced only in healthcare facilities and registered laboratories, which were already following the safety norms of disposal. But after the pandemic, the waste is being generated in homes and quarantine centers as well. It further creates complications in managing and regulating the amount of garbage. With the app’s help, urban local bodies track the patients on a real-time basis and then set up systems to collect biomedical waste from individual households.

The Alternative Approaches to Covid- 19 Biomedical Waste: 

  • Researchers from RMIT University, Melbourne, have found a way to use disposable face masks to make roads. It is a circular economy solution to biomedical waste. According to their study, the material used in the face mask can make one kilometer of a two-lane road by utilizing about 3 million masks. It will further prevent 93 tonnes of waste from going to landfills. The road-making material will comprise shredded single-use face masks and processed building rubble. It will help to meet civil engineering safety standards.
  • From Gujarat, Dr. Binish Desai has started an initiative to recycle the COVID-related medical waste into bricks. He has a Ph.D. in environmental science and technology, and he is also a social entrepreneur and Chairman of E.E. Tech Group. Dr. Desai has been a waste management enthusiast for almost two decades. His journey with waste started at the age of 11 when he thought of bricks using waste. At the age of 23, he accomplished the concept into a reality and developed P-block bricks made out of waste. Now at the age of 27, he has upscaled the version of P-block, which contains bio-medical waste.
  • Indian scientists have proposed converting the plastic used in personal protective equipment into renewable liquid fuels. It will help to curb the vast collection of dumped PPE on the landfills. According to the study, With the help of a high-temperature chemical process called pyrolysis, it can convert many items of disposable PPE into biofuels.

What can we do as citizens?

India is under a lot of pressure and facing crises in various departments like healthcare, education, and economy-wise. We can blame the virus, but effective management can save us from another pandemic waiting for us. Reducing and recycling biomedical waste can control its impact and make our country a little less stressed for the future. It’s important to use less plastic and adopt eco-friendly options. In case of disposing of the Covid waste, ensure proper guidelines are being followed.