It’s now been a little over two years since the World Health Organization officially declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic. As the number of reported cases grew worldwide, most of us kept being primarily preoccupied with preserving our health.
Unfortunately, all these circumstances left a lasting imprint on the environment, aggravating certain issues we were struggling to solve even before the virus started spreading—particularly medical waste management.
In the fight to prevent, treat, and eliminate COVID-19 infections, we’ve released tens of thousands of tonnes of garbage out into the open. Mountains of vaccine vials, protective masks and gloves, syringes, and other regularly used items demand urgent attention.
Although the consequences are visible globally, managing additional medical waste is most problematic in developing countries and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.
Statistics show that, even before the pandemic, every third healthcare facility struggled with this environmentally significant task. The numbers were even more concerning in developing countries, where a whopping 6 out of 10 facilities struggled with medical waste management.
Now more than ever, experts stress how vital it is for HCFs to properly segregate the refuse before it reaches treatment facilities and landfills. Many facilities have proposed (and even implemented) certain methods to achieve that goal:
- Color-coded garbage bins
- Devices that remove needles from syringes
- Avoiding overuse of protective equipment in low-risk settings
- Removing metal, plastic, and elastic components from masks, etc.
Segregation by material is crucial because recycling is practically unattainable without it. By separating the materials, we’re making them reusable and minimizing the problem of pollution.
Unless medical waste is properly handled, healthcare workers and entire communities are exposed to risk. This is especially the case with undermanaged landfills and facilities using poorly functioning incinerators whose toxic emissions aren’t measured or controlled.
Still, there’s a facilitating factor when it comes to handling medical waste produced by hospitals treating COVID-19 patients. According to the CDC, it’s “no different than waste coming from facilities without COVID-19 patients.”
Therefore, not much has changed procedure-wise. However, the global health crisis has imposed a tremendous amount of pressure on people to act and bring the existing situation under control.