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Impact of Coronavirus on waste management

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Coronavirus (COVID19) has been a major disruption in every aspect of our lives. From schools and colleges shutting down to people panic buying in bulk, chaos and confusion prevail in these uncertain times. But another significant sector which is generally not considered so has been impacted. And its effects may be calamitous.

The waste management industry has been key to ensuring cleanliness and hygiene. Today it faces a new challenge. Coronavirus has generated tonnes of medical waste both inside and outside of hospitals including needles, masks and infected tissues that need to be responsibly disposed. And since the virus is thought to spread via respiratory droplets, there is also an added threat of infectious solid or water waste. And if not properly handled, it may aid in spreading the pandemic faster than it already is.

Discarded face masks are piling up on the beaches of Hong Kong posing great dangers to marine life and increasing the chances of infection. Masks have been discarded carelessly around the world which is not only detrimental to the environment but also a health hazard. With the flow of these medical waste along with marine trash, health specialists are worried about a new medium for influx of germs.

Many of the big names in waste management such as Stericycle and Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) have already released detailed operational plans  with multiple precautionary measures including sick leave for employees, travel advisories and procedures for the package of wastes. The onus has now been shifted to generators who are responsible for safely packing all waste before handing it over to drivers and the possibility of denial of service if procedures aren’t followed. 

However experts believe that this is not enough and policy makers and stakeholders must draft formal guidelines at the earliest to ensure that both municipal and medical waste is disposed of in a responsible and safe manner before it’s too late.

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