Biomedical waste increases amidst second wave, sets off warning bells

Lack of strictly monitored segregation and disposal makes it a serious pubic health issue

June 04, 2021 10:10 pm | Updated 10:10 pm IST - K.C. Deepika

Workers disposing medical waste at K.C. General Hospital in Bengaluru. BHAGYA PRAKASH K.

Workers disposing medical waste at K.C. General Hospital in Bengaluru. BHAGYA PRAKASH K.

Apart from the humanitarian crisis, an aftermath of the second wave of the pandemic has been the huge pile-up of biomedical waste generated. Experts and doctors say it is a ticking time bomb as far as waste management is concerned.

The quantity of biomedical waste generated during the second wave at its peak was definitely more than what was seen in the first wave, said Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes’ Association (PHANA) President H.M. Prasanna. “The second wave saw more admissions, which meant more face shields, masks, PPE kits, disposable bedsheets, syringes, etc. Luckily, collection went on smoothly,” he said.

Higher amount

When compared to pre-COVID times, the amount is four to five times more, said Dr. Prasanna. The cost of disposal too has gone up, from the earlier ₹10-13 to ₹58 per kilo now, excluding GST. “A small hospital can generate up to 100 kg a day,” he said.

The situation is alarming in districts too, with more cases reported now from rural areas. In Hassan, prior to COVID-19, biomedical wastes generated in the district was around 800 kg to 900 kg. Now, it has gone up to 1.5 tonnes a day. Some days it has gone as high as 2.5 tonnes, said an official. In Ballari and Koppal districts, the biomedical waste generated was around 200 kg a day on an average. Now, the waste quantity has increased to 900 kg a day, officials said.

This is just from the hospitals. Add to this masks, gloves and even PPE kits being disposed in residential quarters. Hasiru Dala Innovations co-founder Marwan Abubaker admitted that in addition to an approximately 25% increase in general waste due to work from home, there have been cases of masks and the like making their way into dry waste. As a waste management provider, they have been able to do little other than instruct clients on scientific disposal of contaminated waste while ensuring the safety of their staff.

The KSPCB, last year, put out guidelines for management of such waste, including keeping separate colour-coded bins with foot-operated lids, using a dedicated collection bin labelled as “COVID-19” to store COVID-19 waste and keep it separately in temporary storage room prior to handing over to authorised staff of Common Bio-medical Waste Treatment and Disposal Facility, and maintain separate records of waste generated from COVID-19 isolation wards, among others.

D.V. Reddy from Meera Envirotech Pvt Ltd, which manages biomedical waste from 200 small hospitals in Bengaluru, Kolar and Chikkaballapur, said a dedicated vehicle collects only COVID-19 waste and no segregation happens for the same. “This waste is taken directly to incineration units,” he said.

However, company executives too admitted that with costs of collection of general waste and COVID-19 waste substantially different, some hospitals pass off this as general waste. “For general waste disposal, they are charged monthly. But for COVID-19 waste, they have to pay per kilo,” he said.

Dangerous mixing

Amiya Kumar Sahu, founder and president, National Solid Waste Association of India (NSWAI), a non-profit organisation with over 500 members, said they have been getting a lot of enquiries every day.

“Biomedical waste has to be disposed of scientifically. But we have come across instances of such waste being put along with industrial toxic waste in the incinerator. The problem is the inventory of the waste. No one is sure of how much is reused, recycled or disposed, and it is scary. The pollution control boards should be keeping a close watch,” he said.

Leo Saldanha from the Environment Support Group termed the situation “insane.” “Biomedical waste is being mixed with domestic waste, as much of this is now generated in homes, given the sheer numbers of those infected and home quarantined. This is helping spread COVID-19, bacterial and fungal infections, exposing particularly those who are forced to handle the waste without sufficient or any protection,” he said. Lot of it is dumped mixed in landfills and also “recklessly incinerated”, with serious consequences to public health.

(With inputs from Sathish G.T. and Praveen Para)

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