Covid, non-Covid trash! Fast-filling yellow bins keep medi-waste handlers on their toes
Bio-medical waste management companies, which usually collect hospital refuse but are increasingly disposing of waste related to the Covid-19 virus outbreak, may be in for a tough workload over the coming weeks.
As corporate and government offices resume operations after a two-month lockdown, they have been advised by various State-level Pollution Control Boards to seek the services of bio-medical waste handlers to dispose of “disinfectant consumables” and safety gear used by employees while treating Covid-19 infected patients.
Bio-medical waste management firms are already working double shifts in cities such as Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai to clear out huge piles of routine and Covid-19 related waste discarded by hospitals, special Covid-19 care centres, containment spots and quarantine zones.
Additional garbage from offices as well as private medical dispensaries, clinics and dentist chambers – which have begun opening up in non-containment zones – may add to the workload of bio-medical waste handlers.
“Our workload has increased over the past one month,” said Amit Nilawar of SMS Envocare, which covers more than 125,000 hospital beds across Mumbai, Delhi, Raipur and Lucknow, of which over 50,000 hospital beds are in Mumbai alone.
“We’re facing a lot of practical problems… Several of our workers are not able to come for work due to the absence of public transport. Many are not coming back because their family members are not allowing them to return to work. In some cases, neighbours and landlords are asking our workers to stop doing this work,” Nilawar said.
“We’re also not getting mechanics to repair or take up maintenance of our vehicles and other machines,” he added.
Bio-medical refuse disposal is a specialized branch within waste management.
Waste generated by hospitals, nursing homes and local clinics are not handled by people clearing household garbage -- these institutions are required to hire bio-medical waste handlers to clear their bins.
Now, even corporate and government offices have been advised to hire these firms to dispose of masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment used by staff. Worn-out “disinfectant consumables” such as wipes, rags, disinfectant containers, mops are also required to be handed over to medical waste handlers.
“We’re gearing up to meet demand from corporates as well… Handling bio-medical refuse from offices is a new segment for us – and it is expected to grow significantly in the coming months,” said Masood Mallick, joint MD at Ramky Enviro Engineers – one of India’s largest waste management companies serving over 35,000 healthcare establishments.
“Every consumable used for Covid-19 checks, as well as those worn for protection in offices and discarded, would go into a yellow bin. Medical waste handlers would collect the waste from offices and dispose them,” said Mallick, whose company operates over 22 waste treatment facilities across the country.
Yellow bins are an important part of Covid-19 waste management protocol as these contain ‘infectious waste.’
Anatomical, chemical and soiled wastes, discarded linens, used laboratory wares and medical safety wear end up in yellow bins across hospitals, care centres – now, even offices. This is done to prevent the spread of infection and enable safe disposal and prevent reuse/repackaging of infected medical supplies.
“There’s a need to make companies aware of the need for waste segregation,” said Nilawar of SMS Envocare. “Since this is a new thing, companies tend to mix up general waste with used PPE kits, masks and gloves. This should not happen,” he added.
COVID-19 WASTE BURDEN
ET spoke to nearly half-a-dozen bio-medical waste management firms, but none could provide an estimate of the quantity of Covid-19 waste collected across the country each day.
State governments and local administrative bodies have directed these firms not to divulge Covid-19 related data publicly – including data pertaining to Covid-19 waste.
However, it is evident that there is pressure on waste handlers operating in Covid-19 hot-spots across the country.
“We do two collection rounds across key hospitals in the city… Sometimes, we get calls to clear bins at night; then it becomes three times a day,” the manager of a bio-medical waste management firm operating in Chennai said.
“We’ll get swamped with work once private nursing homes open… We’ll have to work round the clock to collect/dispose of the waste,” he added.
Bio-medical wastes are disinfected and autoclaved (sterilised) or incinerated at these facilities.
The government has ordered Covid-19 wastes to be disinfected before incineration.
In the normal course, syringes, blood and urine bags, intravenous sets and tubes, cotton swabs and bandages, and suture needles are autoclaved and mutilated.
With Covid-19 trash, no one is taking chances.
“The quantity of waste collected from hospitals, Covid-19 facilities and quarantine zones is significant… But we’ll be able to manage the increasing loads,” Mallick of Ramky Enviro Engineers said.