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Biomedical Waste Crisis

The movement of plastic has increased sharply during the pandemic as dependence on single-use plastics increases and households contribute to the tonnes of biomedical waste, experts fear. Biomedical waste poses a threat to the global public health and the environment, with the plastic footprint increasing with each day during the ongoing COVID 19 Pandemic, as concerns become that plastic waste is poisoning the planet. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India produces 14.6 tonnes of biomedical waste a day from diagnostic activities and the treatment of Covid-19 patients. 

According to data obtained in June 2020 by the state pollution control authorities, in 7 months rural India has produced 33,000 tonnes of COVID-19 waste, Maharashtra being the largest polluter (January 10, 2021, 11.16am IST). The Union countries and territories have produced 32,994 tonnes of biomedical waste linked to Covid-19, which was collected, treated and disposed of in 198 Joint Biomedical Waste Treatment Facilities (CBWTF). In addition to the 615 tonnes of biomedical waste that Covids-19 generates daily there are 45,308 tonnes of covids-19 biomedical waste, representing a 17 percent increase in biomedical waste production during the pandemic. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the main regulatory authority for medical waste management in India2, India produces more than 600 tons of non-COVID-19 biological waste per day. 

While medical waste disposal is regulated in health facilities, the pandemic has caused enormous amounts of unregulated waste in homes and businesses, especially face masks, which may ultimately harm wildlife. While COVID-related waste is overwhelmingly positive for patients in hospitals and homes, the Coronavirus pandemic is also encouraging waste in non-COVID homes, including not only protective equipment but also plastic packaging, which more and more people use to transport essential goods and non-essential purchases to their homes. 

According to a study by China Covid-19 Waste Management in July 2020, the city of Wuhan where the coronavirus first appeared had produced 247 tons of medical waste at the height of the pandemic per day, six times more than before the outbreak. Pandemic-related medical waste this year exceeded the 6,600 tons of waste produced by health facilities, the country's second-largest contribution to landfill waste, according to published figures. The amount of biomedical waste generated in the second wave of the viral pandemic is "an enormous accumulation since its peak and more than what was seen in the first wave," says HM Prasanna, President of the Association of Private Hospitals and Care Homes (PHANA).  

In India, inadequate waste treatment facilities and the sudden outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) have led to a significant increase in biomedical waste (BMW) and the safe disposal of large volumes of waste has become a serious problem. According to Suneel Pandey, director of the Department of Environment and Waste Management at the Energy Resources Institute, the government has increased the number of cases to 3 lak per day by Wednesday and the waste situation remains unchanged. This study provides a comprehensive assessment of the BMW in India during the Covid 19 pandemic. 

There are myriad challenges to India's handling and disposal of the staggering amount of infectious biomedical waste generated by the pandemic. In its study, the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) found that the risk of corona infection in 23 countries has increased due to the improper disposal of biomedical waste. This study identifies specific cases of biomedical waste, plastic waste and food waste as the main causes of concern during the COVID 19 pandemic in India. 

There are opportunities for the general public to come into contact with medical waste such as needles used outside the health service, as well as biomedical waste created in the home health sector. Although biomedical waste is safely managed and disposed of in order to protect the environment and the general public, workers, particularly in the health and sanitation sectors, run the risk of being exposed to biomedical waste as an occupational risk.  

Last year the KSPCB issued guidelines for the disposal of such waste, including the storage of separate colour-coded containers with foot-operated lids, the use of special collection containers labelled "COVID-19," the safe storage of COVID-19 waste and storage in interim storage facilities prior to handover to authorized personnel as is customary in biomedical waste treatment and disposal facilities and the separate collection of waste generated by COVID / 19 in isolation stations and other facilities. When treating or disposing of waste outside the site, a biomedical disposal service (also called truck service) is commissioned, whose staff are trained to transport biomedical waste in special containers (cartons or reusable plastic containers) to treatment facilities that are designed for this purpose. A document by Chartier et al (2014) recommends that in low-income countries where biomedical waste management is not advanced, burying or collecting waste in a closed pit with 2-3 m of clay or geo-synthetic clay lining on the ground is an emergency practice as it is safer than disposing of hospital waste. 

The lack of COVID waste management mechanisms also contributes significantly to the problem. Separating the sources of collection and disposal is a major challenge and represents an additional health risk due to COVID. To address this problem, the CPCB stated in its revised waste management guidelines COVID-19 in July last year that states should turn to the Ministries of Environment to treat their biomedical waste COVID / 19 as they cannot cope with the burden.    

In June 2020, the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, warned that the impact of COVID is likely to overwhelm existing hazardous waste management capacities in developing countries, leading to inventories and inadequate disposals. Where formal waste collection systems are poor, experts have warned of a looming crisis. In the event of a health emergency such as COVID-19, a steep increase in BMW generation at the height of the outbreak and the disposal of infected disposable masks and PPE could inhibit existing waste management systems. 

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