Waste management essential in the fight against COVID-19

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, UN Environment is urging governments to treat waste management as an essential public service to minimise possible secondary impacts upon health and the environment.

During an outbreak like coronavirus disease (COVID-19), many types of additional medical and hazardous waste are generated, including infected masks, gloves and other protective equipment, together with a higher volume of non-infected items of the same nature.

Unsound management of this waste could cause unforeseen “knock-on” effects on human health and the environment. The safe handling, and final disposal of this waste is therefore a vital element in an effective emergency response, according to UN Environment in a statement.

Effective management of biomedical and health-care waste requires appropriate identification, collection, separation, storage, transportation, treatment and disposal, as well as important associated aspects including disinfection, personnel protection and training.

The safe management of household waste is  likely to be critical during the COVID-19 emergency. Medical waste such as contaminated masks, gloves, used or expired medicines, and other items can easily become mixed with domestic garbage, but should be treated as hazardous waste and disposed of separately.

These should be separately stored from other household waste streams and collected by specialist municipality or waste management operators. Guidelines on the specificities of recycling or disposing of such waste is given in detail in the UN Basel Convention’s factsheet.

Parties to the Basel Convention are currently working on a guidance document for soundly managing household waste.

BRS Executive Secretary, Rolph Payet, commented in the statement: “In tackling this enormous and unprecedented challenge, I urge decision-makers at every level: international, nationally, and at municipal, city and district levels, to make every effort to ensure that waste management, including that from medical and household sources, is given the attention – indeed priority – it requires in order to ensure the minimization of impacts upon human health and the environment from these potentially hazardous waste streams.”

Photo credit: medical-waste-hw/ Flickr creative commons CC BY-NC 2.0


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