Dialogues on Waste: Ep 1- Reinventing Waste Management in times of COVID19

The pandemic has raised crucial questions in the way we manage and dispose of waste. Biomedical waste is seeing a new high. As per the Central Pollution Control Board ( CPCB)’s compliance status report, information received from SPCBs/PCCs, as of 31st May 2020 – ‘2,907 hospitals, 20,707 quarantine centres, 1,539 sample collection centres and 264 testing laboratories, are involved in generation of COVID-19 waste. Generation of COVID-19 related biomedical waste in the country is about 101 Metric Tonnes per day (MT/day)’.

But that’s not all, the changing nature of waste, increasing use of ( personal protective equipment) PPE and cleaning products, the rise of single use plastics, packaging products, indiscriminate disposal of used mask and gloves have resulted in pourakarmikas and other sanitation workers standing in the line of fire. Waste pickers in Bengaluru have been putting out appeal videos, sending photos to citizen groups, media houses to segregate waste and warp used masks, tissues and gloves in newspapers, since the lockdown.

The BBMP has been putting out regular tweets on the importance of segregating waste into three streams – Wet, Dry and Reject and Home Composting. On April 6th, 2020, the BBMP also issued communications on the need to wrap used masks, gloves in a newspaper bag marked X before handing over to the waste collector, for the general public, including asymptomatic patients”. And the 11th and 18th April 2020, post reiterated the need to wrap used gloves and masks. The BBMP also put out appeals to not litter and shared photos/videos of vehicles being disinfected.

Unanswered questions and doubts

Yet, whatsapp groups are buzzing with messages of unanswered questions and doubts- what happens to waste from a home that is under quarantine? Should all dry waste contaminated with used masks be incinerated? What are the instructions of picking waste from houses under quarantine? Given that the virus stays on surfaces, should everything be disposed of? Will bagging waste increase mixed waste disposal? The lack of clear guidelines and instructions have made it all the more confusing. This coupled with reports of pourakarmikas testing positive  added to the fear.  The BBMP’s tweet on July 28th 2020, added more confusion over the procedure for residents in Home Quarantine/Isolation vs General Public . “BBMP Garbage collectors have been provided PPE kits to visit containment areas to collect garbage & disinfect containment zones. Here are the photos from Ward 83, Kadugodi. You can help them by segregating waste. Hand over medical waste, gloves,mask separately”. 

So, the question that continues to haunt everyone,if there are no clear instructions from the BBMP, and operationally there is no data of implementation, how can we as citizens be more responsible and respond?

The various guidelines issued by the Central Government with respective to Standard Operating Procedures and Guidelines had a cursory mention to waste management. ( Government of India Ministry of Health and Family Welfare SOP on preventive measures in Restaurants to contain spread of COVID-19 4th June 2020; Government of India Ministry of Health & Family Welfare SOP on preventive measures to contain spread of COVID-19 in offices 4th June 2020; Government of India Ministry of Health & Family Welfare Revised guidelines for Home Isolation of very mild/pre-symptomatic/asymptomatic COVID-19 cases 2nd July 2020; Ministry of Health & Family Welfare Directorate General of Health Services (EMR Division) Guidelines for home quarantine; Government of India Ministry of Health & Family Welfare Directorate General of Health Services (EMR Division) Advisory for Gated Residential Complexes with regards to COVID-19 17th July; Government of India Ministry of Health & Family Welfare Directorate General of Health Services (EMR Division) Guidelines for Gated Residential Complexes Desirous of Setting Up Small Covid Care Facility by Resident Welfare Associations / Residential Societies / Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) 17th July 2020)

As early as 24th April 2020, the National Green Tribunal ( NGT) , in its order, stated the need to revise the guidelines issued by CPCB to cover individual households and dealing with disposal facilities that are not scientific  including incinerators and deep burial with adequate safeguards. The NGT also pointed out that “Disposal of COVID-19 waste in general bins so as to be part of municipal waste or unscientific handling of sewage and other liquid waste without safeguards can also be hazardous”.

The NGT pointed out the need to monitor, compile data in a digital form to enable easy tracking and logging of COVID19 waste from all sources. Other key points include the need for creating awareness about precautions to be taken by all handlers, workers and citizens, the need for model plans at the local level and orientation and training”.

In compliance with the NGT, the CPCB issued the revised guidelines 4 in suppression of  the earlier  guidelines uploaded at CPCB website on 10.06.2020, titled ‘Guidelines for Handling, Treatment and Disposal of Waste Generated during Treatment/Diagnosis/ Quarantine of COVID-19 Patients- 21st July 2020’.

The document states that the revision-4 of guidelines is issued to provide revised guidance on segregation of general solid waste and biomedical waste from quarantine centers/home-care/healthcare facilities treating COVID-19 patients and to recommend on disposal of PPEs.

What are the new amendments by the CPCB and how does this translate for existing practices?

The CPCB recommendations for Home Quarantine/Isolation are:

  • General solid waste (household waste) generated from quarantine centers or camps should be collected in bags, securely tied and handed-over to municipal solid waste collectors identified by Urban Local Bodies for final disposal.
  • General solid waste should comprise of waste generated from kitchen, packaging material,waste food material, waste papers, waste plastics, floor cleaning dust, etc. including left-over food, disposable utensils, water bottles, tetra packs, used by suspected quarantined persons and COVID-19 patient at homecare or home quarantine.
  • Only the used masks, gloves and tissues or swabs contaminated with blood / body fluids of COVID-19 patients, including used syringes, medicines, etc., if any generated should be treated as biomedical waste 
  • Biomedical waste, if any, generated from quarantine centers/camps should be collected separately in yellow bags (suitable for biomedical waste collection) provided by ULBs. These bags can be placed in separate and dedicated dust-bins of appropriate size. General waste should not be stored in yellow bags.
  • Persons taking care of quarantine home / Home-care should deposit biomedical waste if any generated from suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients in homecare, by following any of the following methods as may be arranged by ULBs;3 – Hand over the yellow bags containing biomedical waste to authorized waste collectors at door steps engaged by local bodies; or – Deposit biomedical waste in yellow bags at designated deposition Centers established by ULBs. The bag again be stored in a yellow bag or container; or – Handover the biomedical waste to the waste collector engaged by CBWTF operator at the doorstep. 

If one were to interpret this, it would read 

  • All other waste ( mixed) needs to be disposed of as per SWM Rules 2016, which means a regular sanitation worker/waste picker/waste collector  can pick up the waste and dispose of it without processing. The problem also brings to fore the use of bags. 
  • Only used masks and gloves to be treated as biomedical waste that warrants a separate collection

So what should be the guidelines to manage waste during COVID19?

In order to explore new thinking, action and way forward , we had a discussion with Dr. Meenakshi Bharat, a gynaecologist by profession an eco champion by passion; Dr. Lata Ghanshamnani, an ophthalmologist, Owner of Senses Eye and ENT Hospital, Thane and the cofounder of NGO Rnisarg Foundation, which works in Waste management, Aparna is a resident of the Ward 177, in Bangalore and Indha Mahoor, a development practitioner and Dry Waste Collection Center Manager, at Hasiru Dala, Bengaluru. The episode was co-hosted by Pinky Chandran and Malini Parmar.

Quick Takeways

Definitions

  1. Homecare – Home care facility is a home where care is to be provided to a COVID-19 positive patient at home. Source: CPCB 2020
  2. Isolation:  separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick. Source: CDC
  3. General solid waste should comprise of waste generated from kitchen, packaging material, waste food material, waste papers, waste plastics, floor cleaning dust, etc. including left-over food, disposable utensils, water bottles, tetra packs, used by suspected quarantined persons and COVID-19 patient at homecare or home quarantine Source: CPCB 2020
  4. Personal protective equipment (PPE) refers to physical barriers, which are used alone or in combination, to protect mucous membranes, airways, skin and clothing from contact with infectious agents. PPE includes gloves, aprons and gowns, facial protection, footwear and hair cover or cap : Source : MOHFW, GOI 
  5. Quarantine: is the separation and restriction of movement or activities of persons who are not ill but who are believed to have been exposed to infection, for the purpose of preventing transmission of diseases. Persons are usually quarantined in their homes, but they may also be quarantined in community-based facilities. : MOHFW, GOI 
  6. Quarantine Camps / Quarantine-Home are the places where suspected people or the contacts of suspected / confirmed cases who have been directed by authorized hospitals or local authorities to stay at home for at least 14 days or more for observation for any symptom of COVID-19, if any.  Source: CPCB

Practices/Approach

  1. Every waste generator including those who are COVID positive, asymptomatic  shall, segregate waste into three categories- Dry, Wet, and Reject
  2. All used disposable masks, gloves and tissues, should be cut, be disinfected with a solution of sodium hypochlorite, stored for 72 hours and will  have to be wrapped in a newspaper with an X mark, before handing over to the waste collector. 
  3. No waste generator shall throw, burn or bury the solid waste generated by him, on streets, open public spaces outside his premises or in the drain or water bodies, as per SWM Rules, 2016
  4. Choose PPE judiciously, switch to reusables -masks, carry your own bag/cutlery, say no to single use disposables and  invest in building relations and empower waste workers

Listen to the interview here:

Disclosure: Pinky Chandran, is the cofounder of Radio Active and one of the founding members of SWMRT. The views expressed in this piece are her own and not that of the station.

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