BMC struggles to dispose of COVID-19 waste

Segregation not taking place, and corporation faces labour shortage

May 15, 2020 01:17 am | Updated 01:17 am IST - Mumbai

Taking no risks: Conservancy workers spray black-and-yellow waste bags with disinfectant before they are sent to Deonar for incineration

Taking no risks: Conservancy workers spray black-and-yellow waste bags with disinfectant before they are sent to Deonar for incineration

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is struggling with safe disposal of the nearly five metric tonnes of COVID-19 waste being generated in containment zones, care centres and hospitals every day.

Apart from the fact that biomedical waste is not being segregated at source, the already-stretched corporation is facing a labour shortage.

“Even though we have annual contracts for collection and transportation of waste, we have a large number of temporary workers who do odd jobs for us. They are mostly gone,” said an officer from the solid waste management department. “With our staff engaged in sweeping, collection, transportation of waste as well as disinfection, sanitation activities, we are stretched,” the officer pointed out.

Less waste

The city is generating less waste on account of the lockdown: about 4,500 metric tonnes (MT) every day, as against 7,500 MT earlier. However, the disposal of waste from COVID-19 zones is proving to be a challenge.

The Central Pollution Control Board has given detailed guidelines about the handling of COVID-19 waste from hospitals, care centres, quarantined buildings, containment zones, and pathology laboratories.

Based on the guidelines, the BMC has distributed yellow bags in quarantined households for residents to dispose of used masks and gloves. The bags are sent to the Biomedical Waste Treatment Facility at Deonar for incineration after spraying disinfectant. All conservancy staff handling yellow and black bags are given protective gear and disinfectants.

Other waste from the quarantined homes and neighbouring buildings is treated as solid waste, collected in black bags, disinfected and given a ‘deep burial’ in a pit at Deonar dumping ground. The transportation vehicles in both cases are sanitised immediately.

Waste generated from pathology labs and hospitals is put into double bags, loaded into separate trucks for COVID-19 waste (the bags and the trucks are labelled ‘biomedical waste’), transported to the Deonar facility, sprayed with disinfectant and burnt immediately.

While COVID-19 waste is strictly disposed of at the waste treatment facility at Deonar run by a private contractor, waste from containment zones is being collected by BMC.

The private company, SMS, has deployed 15 trucks in Mumbai for COVID-19 waste, each with a driver and labourer with personal protective equipment. It picks up five to six tonnes of COVID-19 waste and about 10 tonnes of other biomedical waste every day.

Like the BMC, the contractor too faces a shortage of labour. “The biggest problem for us is our labourers. They are under pressure from their family and neighbours to not do this job, so much so that we had to give them a monetary incentive to get them to work,” said Amit Nilawar, former director and currently shareholder of the company.

No segregation

Another issue is that COVID-19 waste is not segregated at source in containment zones, some of which have a population of nearly a lakh.

“We have distributed yellow bags to everyone but we find biomedical waste mixed in regular waste often,” said the BMC officer quoted earlier.

“According to CPCB guidelines, when a person has COVID-19, all his contacts have to be home-quarantined, and their houses are to be treated the same way as the patient’s, but waste from neighbouring houses is mixed with the rest. That is why we are giving PPEs to our drivers as well as labourers in containment zones,” said the officer.

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