Putting those used masks in their place

As the COVID-19 crisis rages, there are many pressing concerns to be addressed, but that can’t be an excuse for not disposing of masks in a scientific manner. Greater Chennai Corporation has issued new guidelines on how households should dispose of gloves and masks

Published - April 11, 2020 10:25 pm IST

A box placed to collect used masks and gloves at a Corporation zonal office in Salem.  Photo: E.Lakshmi Narayanan

A box placed to collect used masks and gloves at a Corporation zonal office in Salem. Photo: E.Lakshmi Narayanan

Chennai Greater Chennai Corporation’s recent move, listing its guidelines for safe disposal of masks and gloves from homes, both of quarantined and non-quarantined residents, has been welcomed by waste-management agencies and activists.

A public advisory issued by the GCC on April 11, which was published in The Hindu, says residents from quarantined houses must hand over the used masks, gloves and other waste to the sanitary workers of GCC separately in a yellow bag on a daily basis. It will be sent to the bio-medical waste processing facility centres and also to the incinerator maintained by the GCC. Yellow bags will be provided to the quarantined homes.

To dispose of masks, gloves from non-quarantined homes, residents are requested to disinfect the used mask and gloves using ordinary bleach solution (5%) or sodium hypo-chlorite solution (1%) and wrap the same in a separate wrapper and keep it in a closed bin before handing it over to the sanitary worker. The note adds that this waste will be treated as domestic hazardous waste and will be incinerated safely by GCC.

These guidelines should be a source of relief to conservancy workers.

Civic challenge

Waste management experts have been pointing out that if these masks are disposed of unscientifically, they can be a source of infection, which can particularly be the case if they are discarded in a confined space. And, they can be damaging to the environment.

Before the guidelines from GCC came waste management vendors have been issuing basic safety standards.

Wastewinn, a waste management company, sent out a directive to apartment complexes that it is working with, to wrap the soiled masks with newspaper multiple times, before putting them in the reject bin.

“Do not drop them in the dry waste bag. Our waste sorting labourers may get infected,” their note read.

Saahas Zero Waste, another waste management company working in Chennai, had also placed a similar request with housing communities.

“With the Corporation’s guidelines, we can take up the matter more emphatically with the communities that we work with,” says I. Priyadharshini, founder, Wastewinn Foundation. The firm works with nearly 30 communities along Old Mahabalipuram Road, Chennai’s IT Corridor, and in Pallikaranai.

It must be noted that on March 18, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) came out with a set of guidelines for handling, treatment and disposal of waste generated during treatment/diagnosis/ quarantine of COVID-19 patients.

For patients in quarantine camps or home care, the circular says, biomedical waste should be collected separately in yellow bags and the same shall be handed over to authorised waste collectors engaged by local bodies. Urban local bodies should engage common biomedical waste treatment facilities (CBWTFs) to pick up such waste either directly from such quarantined houses or from identified collection points.

Among cities that have taken steps to collect used masks and gloves, Thiruvanthapuram city corporation is reported to have kept collection bins at handwashing kiosks.

In Bengaluru, the civic body’s campaign materials mention that gloves and masks must be separately sealed in a cover and only then disposed of.

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