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Impact of India's covid crisis on medical waste

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

As COVID-19 cases increase, so has the quantity of biomedical waste

From almost 609 tonnes of daily biomedical waste generation in 2018, India now generates 710 tonnes daily, which includes 101 tonnes of COVID-19 related waste. The surge in biomedical waste could soon overwhelm India’s installed capacity to treat it, which is around 840 tonnes daily and spread over more than 195 common biomedical waste treatment facilities (CBWTFs). Poor segregation of biomedical waste from municipal solid waste, which also ends up at these facilities, threatens to further hasten this process.

Mumbai and Delhi are the two worst coronavirus affected cities in India and thus there has been an exponential rise in the amount of biomedical waste generated per day in these two cities. According to data shared by the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), Delhi’s daily biomedical waste generation has reportedly gone up from 25 tonnes per day in May to 372 tonnes per day in June (15 times more). The two CBWTFs in Delhi, with an installed capacity of 19 tonnes and 13 tonnes per day, are grappling with this increased load. Mumbai generated an average of 11.34 tonnes of biomedical waste every day in the month of March, which rose to 19.12 tonnes per day in May.

Other states also reported a similar increase in biomedical waste generation. According to the West Bengal Health Department sources, the state used to churn out around 15 tonnes of biomedical waste per day during pre-COVID times but currently PPEs alone contribute to 18 tonnes of waste. said an official of the state’s health department. According to data shared by EPCA, similar spike in biomedical waste production is noticed in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. In May, UP generated 14.5 tonnes of biomedical waste per day. In July, it shot up to 247.32 tonnes per day. Similarly, biomedical waste generation in Haryana increased from 44.1 tonnes per day in May to 162.23 tonnes per day in July.

Earlier each hospital bed used to produce 250 grams of medical waste. Now it has increased to 2 to 2.5kg

One of the obvious solutions is to set up more CBWTFs. In states like Maharashtra,thirty common facilities have been set up for the treatment and scientific disposal of COVID-19 biomedical waste generated across the state. The state government should focus on the ways to reduce the amount of biomedical waste generated. During this COVID times, the reduction can be achieved by adopting Reuse model. Direct reduction can’t be ensured during this pandemic and reuse being the next on waste hierarchy will be the ideal model to focus on. Various companies which operates CBWTFs across the country, has suggested that arrangements should be made to procure and promote the use of reusable PPE suits.

The government of various states should make sure that the CBWTFs in their respective states are running at their installed capacity. The state governments should also take steps on an immediate basis to operationalize those treatment facilities which couldn’t be functionalized due to certain reasons such as local protest.

The government should focus on maximizing the operational capacity of the alternatives of CBWTFs, such as incinerators, captive facilities and deep burial pits.

The government should ensure door-to-door collection of waste as per usual frequency and should also provide sorting instructions to citizens. Sorting is very much crucial during this pandemic as poor segregation of waste could further deepen the current problem. Self-treatment patients should be provided with an option to obtain a waste collection-box free of charge from the pharmacy upon presentation of their prescription. Once the box is filled, it must be closed and returned to a collection point, after which the waste can be adequately disposed and treated.

The state government should have a talk with neighbouring states (where the number of coronavirus cases is relatively low and has sufficient CBWTFs) for transferring their medical waste to that state for proper disposal and treatment.


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